The Bog of Lost Scholars

October 7, 2010

Craft Update: Caught Up on Knitting

Filed under: Crafts,Dejunking and Organizing — castiron @ 11:13 pm

Being a mildly organizationally-obsessed person, I’ve got all my unfinished craft projects listed in Toodledo, set to remind me to do a few stitches or a row every so often. And then when I don’t get around to working on the project, as happens fairly often, I know about how long it’s been since I picked up that sweater or sock or hat.

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve caught up on all my knitting projects.

Everything’s been worked on, even if it’s only a row or two. Newer items like the Japanese vest pattern, older ones like the Turkish sweater and the Fair Isle hat — it’s all been touched at least once. I have no overdue knitting tasks.

Now we’ll see how long I can keep up with this. Some days I only have one knitting project on my to-do list; others I have five, especially challenging when they’re the doozies. This Saturday, for example, five projects are showing up at once, and four of them are complicated ones that I have trouble getting the impetus to work on. But I’m finding I can talk myself into one row, or maybe two; one row means one step closer to done.

Still, it’s a nice feeling, knowing that all my knitting is current.

Now if I can just get there with the crochet and the sewing and the cross-stitch….

June 29, 2010

The Secondary Calendar

Filed under: Dejunking and Organizing — castiron @ 11:55 pm

One of David Allen’s recommendations in Getting Things Done is that you should only use your calendar for “hard landscape” tasks, tasks that must be done on that day — appointments, deadlines, etc. You shouldn’t put tasks you want to do today on your calendar; instead, you should keep them on your Next Action lists and choose from among them based on what your day is looking like.

This is great for someone who has a limited number of Next Actions and can easily decide what needs to be done in a given time and context. It’s not so great for someone who has 437 Next Actions, many of which can be done in a given context; that’s a recipe for choice paralysis, and can lead to wasting a chunk of time trying to decide what to do. It’s also not so great for someone who has a lot of tasks that ought to be done on regular intervals but don’t have to be — for example, the world won’t end if the toilet isn’t cleaned routinely, but it’s much pleasanter in the bathroom when it is cleaned regularly.

My solution: two calendars.

I use Google Calendar, backed up to my wall calendar, for my appointments and deadlines. And I use Toodledo’s calendar to assign dates when I might want to do a task, and to automatically assign the next date I want to do a routine task.

Those dates are entirely flexible; if a task shows up today that I can’t actually do today (or just really don’t want to do today), no problem; I’ll reschedule it, or just let it go to overdue. But when I’m too brain-fried to decide on something, I’ve got a narrowed-down list of things that I want to work on. And when I have more energy to choose tasks, I can look at the lists as a whole and say, “Actually, this task would be a better thing to work on right now, even though it’s scheduled for next week (or was tentatively scheduled for a month ago)”. A secondary calendar is a valuable tool for me.

June 21, 2010

Unfinished Project Guilt

Filed under: Crafts,Dejunking and Organizing — castiron @ 12:21 am

The Yarn Harlot recently posted wondering why she feels guilty about bailing on a project to knit something that’s more appealing. Predictably, many of the comments in response were along the lines of “Don’t feel guilty! Knitting is supposed to be fun! It’s the Puritan Work Ethic coming to harass you; just ignore it! You produce plenty of finished projects; you have nothing to feel bad about!”

All good points.

But sitting here surrounded by 20+ unfinished projects, I can tell you one reason why it’s legitimate to feel guilty about neglecting one to knit something else: the waste of money.

Yarn isn’t cheap. Even a few skeins of big-box craft store acrylic represents some money that could’ve been used for a lunch out; a sweater-quantity of luxury fiber could buy a week’s groceries; a large stash could represent enough money to rewire the house or take a nice vacation. Now, when the yarn’s still in skein form, the pleasure of petting it and imagining what projects you could make from it may well be worth what you paid for it. The process of turning that yarn into something nifty is another pleasure that’s well worth the cost; ditto the enjoyment of using or giving the finished item.

But when the project is sitting half-finished in a bag somewhere, it’s not doing any of those things. No dreams about what to make from the yarn, because a project’s already chosen and started; no fun of watching the project grow and feeling the yarn as you work, because you’re not working on it; no finished item to be proud of. If the project’s packed away somewhere, you don’t even have the pleasure of petting the yarn. It’s a waste of the money you spent on the yarn. You’d have been better off putting that money towards paying off debt or going out for a memorable meal…or buying yarn for a project that you actually would enjoy finishing.

August 18, 2009

On Three Task Management Programs

Filed under: Dejunking and Organizing — castiron @ 1:31 pm

Over the past ten years, I’ve used three different programs to manage my to-do list.

The first, Life Balance, is still a program I love. It runs on the Mac, Palm, PC, and now iPhone. I like its basic idea of sorting your tasks by giving higher priority to tasks in areas you’ve been neglecting; I enjoy the interface and find it fun to work with. It’s great for projects that have subtasks, both ones that need doing in order and ones that can be done in any sequence.

So, why don’t I use it anymore? Because my Palm died, and this made the program far less useful to me. Even before that, because I used it both at home and at work, it was a hassle to keep it synced; once my Palm was no longer there as a go-between, it became too much trouble. (If I’d had a good thumb drive at the time, I might have tried keeping the file on that, but at the time it wasn’t an option.)

Enter cloud computing. Through someone’s blog, I discovered Remember the Milk, an online to-do list. I was immediately hooked. While I missed many of the LB features, the convenience of having my task list at work AND home, hassle-free, outweighed the missing capabilities. And RtM has many handy features of its own, most notably its use of tags and its easy keystrokes for editing tasks. I used RtM for well over a year, and was planning to finally pony up for a paid account even though it wouldn’t give me any new features that were useful to me….

…until one of RtM’s quirks bit me in the rear.

I don’t know if this is still true, but at the time, when you selected multiple tasks in RtM, you had to invoke the multi-edit function to change details about all the tasks, but you didn’t have to invoke it to delete them all — or complete them all. And when you created tasks, they stayed selected until you unselected them. This made it easy to accidentally delete or complete a task, especially when one of the selected tasks was so low on the screen that you had to scroll down to see it.

It was an accidental completion that got me. One day my boss asked me about my progress on a project that I hadn’t started and that had completely slipped off my radar. While fortunately I was able to complete the project in time, I wondered how it could’ve escaped my notice since I was regularly reviewing my work tasks in RtM; on investigation, it turned out to have been accidentally completed when I completed another task, so it never showed up on my to-do list afterward.

I’d had several accidental deletes and completes before that I’d caught and been able to undo, but after this one, I no longer trusted RtM. The whole point of using a to-do list, whether on paper or in pixels, is because my brain can’t keep track of all my tasks and obligations; if it’s too easy to lose a task on my to-do list, then it’s a bad to-do list for me. (Granted, there’s an RtM workaround: always unselect all before selecting tasks to complete or delete. But by that point, I wasn’t comfortable with trusting the system during the time it’d take me to ingrain the habit.)

So I searched for a replacement program, and eventually decided to try Toodledo, the program I’m still using.

Toodledo has most of the features I liked about RtM — the cloud, the tags, the convenience. It was easy to import my RtM data (though I did have to do some data wrangling with my exported file to keep from having too much cruft), and while it took me a few days to get used to the different interface, one day I realized that I’d been using Toodledo happily for a few months and wasn’t having any “but I wish I could do this RtM thing” thoughts. Plus, I can do a few things that I can’t do in RtM (most notably, have the equivalent of an RtM smartlist for “overdue tasks that were due within the last week”). There’s a few things about the program I’m not crazy about (I don’t like the checkmark when you hover over the task checkbox being the same color as the checkmark when you’ve completed the task, for example), but overall I’m satisfied — enough so that I’ve paid for a Pro account.

To someone who’s looking for a good to-do list program, I’d recommend checking out any of these three. Life Balance is a fine program; I’d recommend it to a business who wants a to-do program that lives on their own servers, to a Palm user, or to an iPhone user. In the event that I ever shell out for an iPhone (or get myself an iTouch, if it runs on that too), I might start using it again. RtM, in spite of the quirks has many features a lot of folks find indispensable, and if you start out with the “unselect all” habit, it’ll work fine for you. And of course, Toodledo does what I need from a to-do list: shows me what I need to do, when I need to do it, with lots of fun features.

(Now, if only a to-do list could actually do some of these tasks for me….)

November 13, 2006

Handle Everything Once: Actually, Not Too Bad!

Filed under: Dejunking and Organizing — castiron @ 10:15 pm

The “Handle Everything Once” project has stagnated. Still, I cleared a whole shelf of the hall closet and was able to move some more rarely used items in there, making room in the office closet for paperwork relating to the folk dance group.

And while I don’t think I’ll make my goal of handling everything by the end of the year, here’s all that’s left undone:

  • the office file cabinet
  • the office floor
  • one shelf and the floor of the hall closet
  • the contents of the refrigerator
  • the utilities room
  • the car interior
  • the random items on the back porch

Given that this is a three bedroom, two bathroom house that’s full of stuff, that’s not half bad! (And I may yet get to a few more of these things. The hall closet, in particular, I’ll probably finish, and the fridge is due for a major cleanout now that veggie season is almost over.)

August 23, 2006

Handle Everything Once: Summer Doldrums

Filed under: Dejunking and Organizing — castiron @ 11:00 pm

Note to self: While summer provides lots of time at home, which helps with decluttering, summer also provides heat, which kills motivation. Do not expect to make significant progress during July and August.

In spite of that, the bathrooms are both done. The big toss-out here: half a shelf full of incandescent light bulbs. I’ve switched almost every bulb in my house to compact fluorescent, and I’m unlikely to switch back.

Next on the schedule: my hall closet, the third most challenging space in the house. (The office is more challenging because it has so darn much stuff in there, most of which is stuff I want to keep; the worst space is the utilities room, slated for September.) I haven’t touched it yet, but sometime in the next week or so I’ll probably get the urge.

July 9, 2006

Handle Everything Once Update

Filed under: Dejunking and Organizing — castiron @ 12:56 pm

I’d thought that the kitchen and dining room phase of the decluttering would be easy, but it’s taking a surprising amount of effort to work on it, though once I start a session I’m able to process a shelf or drawer very quickly.

But I’m halfway through the dining room and have finished a few kitchen cabinets. Another stack of unwanted books is out of here, going to Half Price Books or to the Press’s damaged books stack or to friends or to Half.com. (Less of that last than I’ve done in the past; too many of these books are available used for $5 or less, which makes it not worth my while to sell them.) I also unloaded some videos that I’d taped; if I haven’t watched them in the past two years (more like five, in some cases) then I don’t need them. Besides, almost all of them are available for purchase now, so if I actually miss any of them, I’ll go to Amazon and get a DVD.

And I cleaned out and defrosted the freezer! I cleaned out the fridge freezer! I threw out frozen veggies from 2002! This was a long overdue task, so I’m rather pleased with myself for finally doing it.

May 4, 2006

Handle Everything Once: The Kitchen Looms

Filed under: Dejunking and Organizing — castiron @ 6:49 pm

While my son was out of town in early April, I went through all the stuff in his room. One large box of outgrown clothes went to a friend with a smaller son; some broken toys went in the trash, and some unbroken were unloaded.* I cleaned out all the shredded paper from behind the dresser and under the bed. I got rid of the plastic desk and replaced it with the old nightstand from my room, so there’s now an accessible place to store diapers. It’s very nice in there now, even though the boy’s been back home for two weeks.

Now that it’s May, it’s time for the kitchen and dining room. On the one hand, there’s a LOT of stuff to cover, which is why I allotted myself until the end of June to finish. On the other hand, since I’m always out here anyway when I’m supervising my son, it’s easy to do part of a drawer or shelf at a random moment. (Unlike in the office, which still isn’t finished!) I don’t foresee any problems with getting this area done in the scheduled time.

*(Yes, if the boy were neurotypical, I wouldn’t be tossing toys behind his back, broken or not; an ordinary seven-year-old is old enough to be asked what toys they want to keep and what they want to unload. My son is a high-functioning autistic with very limited communication skills; he can’t tell me whether he wants to keep a toy or not. He shows me what toys he likes by playing with them; he shows me what toys he’s indifferent to by ignoring them. I make the judgement calls based on that.)

March 22, 2006

Still Sorting Stuff

Filed under: Dejunking and Organizing — castiron @ 8:15 pm

March’s focus room for the Handle Everything Once project is my bedroom. This one’s another fairly easy room to process; I have extraneous stuff in my bedroom closets, but not nearly as much as in the office or the hall closet. I was able to move one small chest out completely; another chest is going to move into my son’s room next month; and I still have two empty drawers in the dresser. I’ve cleared a fair amount of stuff out of the closet. This room will probably be done on schedule.

The living room is done. Hurrah!

I’m still making slow progress on the office. I purged a large number of cross-stitch patterns; now I just have to figure out where to unload them, as cross-stitch patterns aren’t selling for squat on eBay. The shelves are almost done; the closet, one of the big sticking points in this room, is about half done.

I’m definitely glad I’m doing this project. The results aren’t immediately visible (except in my bedroom — that empty spot where the narrow chest used to be is quite obvious), but I can tell the difference, and I’ve got a much better handle on what I own.

February 23, 2006

Handle Everything Once Update

Filed under: Dejunking and Organizing — castiron @ 8:21 pm

It’s almost the end of February, and I have not yet processed everything in the office. However, I have processed everything in the living room, with one exception.

I’m not at all surprised. First, the office has the highest density of Stuff/square foot of any room in my house, with the possible exception of the hall closet; the living room has the lowest. Second, I can supervise my son while processing stuff in the living room, and I can’t from the office, so it’s easier to spend time on the living room.

The one exception in the living room: the chest that the television sits on. The drawers contain all my pre-digital-camera photos. Processing those is a huge project right there, and I think for this round, I’m going to count them as processed if I open up the drawers and make sure nothing else is hiding in there. (Looking at the infant and toddler photos of my son, taken before we had any idea that he was autistic, is more mentally taxing than going through ten boxes of craft supplies.)

Anyway, I’m still feeling good about the general progress. I’ve unloaded a LOT of stuff (and am reaching the point of wondering, with some pieces of furniture, whether they’re still even needed).

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