Monday, 31 March 2014

Oh. It seems that I’m NOT Superwoman

Huh. Who'd have guessed?

This bolt of enlightenment has come about as a result of doing my monthly review and Q1 review, where I am steadily noting all the things I haven't managed to do from my list of 'next actions' for March and/or Jan-Mar. Partly, this is because I have decided to change the priority of some goals (um, because I wanted to do them more than the other things... like writing book 6 instead of editing book 5; doing anything other than housework). Mostly it is because I have been singularly inept at remembering that I can only spend a minute once.

I hate not being able to tick off things I have achieved, so I am going to try two things for April: allocating time to projects (rather than allocating 'next actions') and returning to time-boxing.

Most of my projects have 'next actions' that are in themselves pretty concrete ("Finish editing book 5") but which can take elastic amounts of time depending on whether my head is in editing mode or not. Some days I can clear the scheduled pages easily; other days it is a real slog. Also, book 6 is bubbling away too vividly to ignore, and if I spend an hour making notes on that, there is an hour less to spend on editing. Likewise, "Tidying the garden" has technically got a concrete end-point (the garden is tidy) but we all know that that scenario is unreachable!

What would be much easier to monitor (and hence feel like I have achieved something) is to allocate time to these projects. Instead of "edit book 5 up to page 300" I will "spend X hours on editing". Similarly, instead of "tidying the border by the lawn" I will "spend Y hours tidying the garden".

The added bonus for this is that it will make me look at how much free time there is in my schedule and be sensible about what I can achieve in it. If there are no free days in a week, it would be impossible to have edited 40 pages of book 5, weeded a large border, planted lots of seeds, finished my report for Rotary, done the housework, read at least one book and written to four friends by the end of it, yet sometimes my weekly 'to do' lists look like that!

Time-boxing has worked well for me (see here) but often ends up failing because I've allocated tasks to the time rather than just allocated the time to a project area. Since I'm ludicrously poor at estimating 'time to completion' on tasks, things have crept into other time-slots and I've ended up feeling over-scheduled, at which point I abandon everything and end up doing nothing.

So, for April, I counted up how many free days I have and converted that into free hours. Then I looked at all my project areas and allocated time to them, rather than tasks.
[Oh, and I made sure that I scheduled time for: catch-up/unexpected things/"mosquito tasks"*]

I have 11 ½ 'free' days in April (yes – this is why you overestimate how much you’re going to get done – you have fewer free days than you think!). Allowing 8 hours per day (possibly an underestimation, but better that way than the other...) that gave me 92 hours to allocate to projects. [I realise this is ignoring evenings which are also technically 'free' and in which I could probably achieve heaps, but I would rather under-allocate and over-achieve than vice versa]

I then started to guesstimate time on an hours per week basis to: Chimwemwe work, writing (encompassing editing and sketching out book 6), writing to friends, running, gardening, housework, reading, and emerging tasks/"mosquito tasks" and quickly clocked up about two hundred hours! Whittling it down to 92 has made me be far more realistic over what I might achieve in April and how many hours per week I will be able to spend on each area!

Having produced my 'hours per project' list for the month, I then spread out the hours per project area over the weeks for April (actually, up to May 4th as I work in Monday to Sunday blocks). I have to say, using a spreadsheet kept me right as I invariably pencilled in more hours than there were free that week and had to start horse-trading with the project areas: a little less of this so I can do a bit more of that...

This up-front effort will hopefully make my weekly/daily scheduling a whole heap easier, as now I just have to time-box the hours for the week into a diary (and use my sand-timers on the day to keep me right). If I manage to achieve a 'next action' I will of course tick that off on the main lists, but if I don't, at least I will have progressed towards it.

Thank heavens for Philofaxy, since as I am back to time-boxing, I need a day per page diary, but as I am trialling this method, I only need a month of it, and can just print off the requisite pages from the diary files. Bless you Steve and Ray!

As well as writing down what time I intend to spend on each area, I am also going to note down how much time I did spend on each area so that May's list might be based on a tad more evidence (I am a scientist after all...).

I'll keep you posted as to how it's working (and show you pictures of the system in progress!).

[*"mosquito tasks" are small, irritating things that don't warrant an individual slot for each task, but which can be lumped together into a 'do all those irritating little things in this hour' slot]

Monday, 17 March 2014

In praise of the A5 Domino (2)

In my last post, I wittered on about how many A5 dominos I now have, but what keeps bringing me back to them so often?

1. The price
They are frequently on offer in WH Smiths with either 40% or 50% off. (No affiliation, just always had good service from them. I have bought every single A5 domino I own from them!)

2. The 30mm rings
Huge. Just huge. And since I am generally not hefting these binders about on a daily basis, the fact they have huge rings and are stuffed (and heavy) doesn’t matter.

3. The rigid cover

I may well be using these to make notes whilst out and about (not all that common an occurrence) or whilst balancing the binder on my knee (much more common occurrence!) and the rigid cover makes this an easy task.

4. Pared-down interior

I am largely using these as binders and never as wallets and so the pared-down insides work well. The notepad slot in the back is brilliant.

5. Two pen-loops; both elastic

I surely don’t need to explain any further do I?

6. The fill

Although I bought this to use with home-made contents, I still like the fill it comes with. The one I just bought had an academic diary (July 2014 – December 2015; week to view, vertical) which will be used in 2015; A-Z dividers (okay, I’m more ‘meh’ about this as I have about a zillion sets of these now!); several sheets of coloured paper; some address sheets (okay, fairly ‘meh’ about these too); some ‘to-do’ sheets; a top-opening envelope; a ‘today’ marker’; a note-pad.
The address sheets and dividers are no use to me, but the rest of the fill is pretty good, especially the note-pad, which unlike the atrocious diary paper, handles a fountain pen okay!

For the price (£22) I think this is a great deal!

Saturday, 15 March 2014

In praise of the A5 Domino (1)

I'm either addicted, or they are breeding.
I counted how many I have (sad but true). I appear to now possess six of these things (having bought another red one, reduced price, from WH Smiths - £22).

Indeedy. Four red and two ultraviolet.

Er... why so many? What are they used for?

Two are used as ‘book-o-fax’ binders
One is a letter-writing binder
One is a ‘me’ binder
Two are writing binders: one for admin; the other as a book-planner

Book-o-Fax (2x red)
I have an ever-growing set of book reviews. I only started doing these in 2009 but am now having to move to a second volume (the reason that I needed another new A5 domino from WH Smiths!). I keep a list of all the books read in a particular year (not including things read for work) and also a review of each of them. I use a set of A-Z dividers to sort the reviews by author. This post describes the book-o-fax.

The Letter-Writing binder (red)
I write a lot of letters to friends. I love getting a hand-written letter in the post and I enjoy writing proper letters to people too. In the letter-writing binder, there are envelopes, letters from people in the filopal set-up, notes that I have made on what I have written about to people (so I don’t keep repeating myself!) and in the note-pad slot in the back is a block of writing paper.

The ‘Me’ binder (ultraviolet)
Other than a print-out of an e-book, this is disappointingly rather empty! There are a few notes I made whilst reading through a few ‘change your life’ type books and some things cut from magazines or papers etc., but I really should use this a bit more!

The two writing binders
1. Writing admin (red)
This houses notes for blogs, story/novel plans, notes on agents, which of my books are at what stage, research notes for magazines etc. As I say, general admin. I posted about it here (though the set-up has changed a teensy bit since then).

2. The book-planner (ultraviolet)
I used this one to plan the last novel, but then switched to a bound notebook. I blogged about it here, here and predominantly here. I still hum and haw about using it for book-planning but then I always prefer using a bound planner (even though I know that using a binder is more sensible in so many ways!). I might use this as a book-planner again for book 6 (which is currently getting scribbled about in a Ciak notebook, but once I get more serious about writing it, I might move into the binder). If I don’t use it as a book-planner, I may start to store character notes in it. Every character I write about gets a ‘character dossier’ and I might put them all in one place (either organised by novel or by character name – not quite sure which would be better).

So, that's why I have six of these things! Anyone else have multiple versions of the same binder (domino or other)? What makes you keep buying them? And what do you use them for?

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Itching to use the Original...

So, here’s the thing... I have a gorgeous A5 Original in green that I’m currently not using, but want to use. It’s too big to carry around and was always purchased with the intention it would be a ‘sitting on my desk’ binder for when I became an unemployed a self-employed writer. The plan would be that all my goals to projects to next actions and all my monthly and weekly plans would go into the A5, leaving a small satellite diary, paper for quick notes, contacts and lists of books/maps in the carry-around, along with money and cards. The satellite diary would only be for checking if I was free/busy and could be as small as week per page or maybe even month per view (gasp – really??). With such a pared-down set-up I might even (even bigger gasp here...) manage to squeeze into 15 mm rings!

But, I have no patience, and the becoming unemployed/self-employed ain’t happening for a while and I really, really want to use the A5. Now.

Hmm. There’s a catch (there’s always a catch...). I also don’t want to rewrite everything into pocket-size (to switch to A5 for planning and pocket for carry-around) because I sense in my bones that it won’t work while I still have to go out to work, not least because there would then be the issue of running three calendars: work, A5 & pocket, and I can be fairly rubbish at synching two sometimes!

Okay, well, then maybe I could not rewrite everything, but move to the half-way place of A5 plus planning on my desk and personal minus planning as my carry-around and switch to the pocket plus A5 set-up when I need to change diary.

But that would then feel like I’m just setting up the A5 desk version for the sake of using the A5 (which, of course, I would be!) and I wouldn’t need all the diary space that I currently have in the personal if planning is in the A5, but as it’s already set up, I would end up using it. So in fact, all that I would have done is to have added another diary on my desk to have to remember to sync with two other diaries... It wouldn’t work.

Ah well. Step away from the green Original. Step away... At least for now.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Notes to self...

I have been in and out of filofaxes for years. You’d think I’d have got it sorted by now, but no. I have a complete drawer of the things, yet I still trawl eBay and Adspot on a regular basis.

Anyway, in a (futile) attempt to curb what is surely an addiction, I note the following things:
  • I need lots of card-slots (preferably ≥4; ideally ≥6)
  • I need a zipped pocket to keep other crap in
  • I need another pocket to keep paper money in
  • The binder has to lie flat as a bat or I will hate it
  • I like colour
  • I like floppy leather (see flat-as-a-bat point!)
  • If I don’t like the filofax I am using, I don’t use it enough, even if all of the above points have been met
Maybe if I print this out and stick it to my laptop so that I have to look past it as I am trawling eBay and Adspot, it might rein me in a bit? (ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!)

What are other people’s ‘must have’/’must not have’?

Saturday, 1 March 2014

All change, again...

I managed about a week and a half in the Holborn but then today I cracked and swapped the Holborn contents with the navy Portland, so now the Portland is the day to day binder and the Holborn has the goals to projects to next-action sheets in it.

I’ve never used the navy Portland as a day to day binder and from the stiffness of the card slots, I don’t think anyone else has (or certainly not used the card slots, at least!).
I weighed the Holborn before I emptied it and it came in at 530g. Once I’d swapped everything into the Portland, I weighed that and was amazed that it also came in at exactly 530g! I would have thought it would be lighter as the Holborn has the extra layers to make all the pockets.

So what was wrong with the Holborn? It is a glorious colour, it has all those card-slots and pockets... why was I itching to be out of it? To be honest, it was the leather. It may well soften up with more use, but it is stiff at the moment and not super-floppy the way the Baroque and Portland binders are. I also don’t like the contrast stitching (never have. Took brown leather polish to the stitching in the brown Holborn I hated it so much...).  I know others have Holborns and love them, but I was just not happy.

Instead of immediately fleeing back to the Baroque though, I thought I would have a play with the Portland (variety being the spice and all that). I also realised that although I bought the Holborn for all those pockets, I only used the same number as I do with other binders: the card slots (the Portland has the same number as the Baroque and the Holborn), the zipped pocket for other cards and the vertical pocket for paper money. I didn’t use the two inward-facing vertical pockets in the Holborn, or the outward-facing pocket at the back with the zipped pocket inside. I just used the outward-facing one at the font and the zipped one at the back. Therefore there was no real reason not to have a play with the Portland, even though it has one pocket fewer than the Baroque.

I am (just about!) still avoiding scratching the “let’s shift to a pocket” itch. Maybe at some point, life will change enough to move to an A5 on my desk and a pocket to carry around.