Sunday, July 29, 2007

Productivity tips (or: Lifehack read my mind)

Lifehack (link via Lifehacker)has some tips for concentration. Some of them are a lot like what I stumbled upon as part of the Internet experiment (which I am still using on weekdays but not on weekends, as you can see by the time of this post). Among them:

# 1. Cut off the noise. Comment: Turning off the Internet until 5 has had a huge effect on this.
# 8. Isolate yourself (ha!). Comment: Too much of this isn't good, though.
# 9. Healthy body, sharper mind. Comment: All the early morning exercise really has helped with concentration.
# 10. Be patient. Comment: The writer says that when you sit there for 15-20 minutes before you start writing, you'll have an impulse to do something else instead, which you should resist. For me, checking e-mail and surfing the web was my go-to means of breaking that unbearable pause when you actually have to do the hard work of thinking before writing. Not allowing the Internet to be on at that time left me with nothing to do except think and write.

Other things I've observed:

  • One of the commenters on Lifehacker mentions that playing the same music when you work (if you work to music) can create an almost Pavlovian response so that when you hear the music, you get to work. Since I do listen to classical music when I work, I've found that this is true. If classical music is playing (especially Chopin or Mozart), I feel that I should be writing.

  • The Lifehack column suggests 60-90 minutes as the shortest period of time you should set for yourself. When I start a piece, I have to break it up a little more or else I start thinking in circles and so use shorter periods between breaks.

    What kind of system do you use?
  • Saturday, July 28, 2007

    Thoughts while walking

  • Who looks more psychotic, people singing along with their iPods or people with those Borg-like Bluetooth earphones who look as though they're talking to themselves? If it's people singing along with their iPods, I'm in big trouble.
  • Speaking of the Borg talkers, a couple of years ago I was walking in London and saw a guy in front of me talking and gesticulating wildly. I thought he was on the phone, but when I got ahead of him, there was no phone there, and no consecutive thought process behind what he was saying, either.
  • I'm doing more running on the walk but am still no candidate for a marathon.
  • Playing music is better for fast walking/running than listening to audiobooks. Current audiobooks on my iPod: The Lion's Pride, on Theodore Roosevelt; The Omnivore's Dilemma, which was so depressing the other day as I was walking by a beautiful apple orchard and some fields that I switched away from it; A History of Rome and Team of Rivals, which I haven't started yet; and A Crack in the Edge of the World, about the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. I'm 4 hours into it and San Francisco hasn't been built yet. One disadvantage of audiobooks: no skimming.
  • Thoreau would be appalled to see all of us walking with iPods in our ears, but maybe he wasn't tortured with thoughts about all that he had left undone and the deadlines he was pushing against while he was walking, either. I know we're supposed to be contemplative and all that while walking, but the iPod helps to shut out those anxiety-producing thoughts, so what's the harm?
  • Thursday, July 26, 2007

    Personality meme again

    If my extraversion scale gets any lower, I'm going to go live in a cave. INTP
    Click to view my Personality Profile page

    Might as well be the first snowflake

    About the end of July, I find myself avoiding looking at the sales parts of newspapers and also e-mail from the department.


    Because they do not grasp that it is still summer. The ads want to tout Back to School items, and the chair wants to get everyone on board with the retreat/department meeting/training session that's been cooked up for us while we were thinking that it was still, well, July. It's as though you're having a good time at a party and someone reminds you that you have to do your income taxes when you get home. You can still be at the party, but it's not the same.

    It's bad enough that every department I've ever been affiliated with has scheduled something for the day or days just before classes begin. Don't they know that if days could be bought and sold like Monopoly real estate, they're taking Boardwalk and Park Place away from us? Right when every minute counts--so that you can fight with the bookstore about why your books aren't in, or change your syllabus for the fiftieth time--you get sucked away into meetings whose importance may rank as a 10 on the department's significance meter but as a 0 on your own.

    I did go to campus this week, and everything was as it should be: deserted, quiet, and dark except for a handful of intrepid graduate students. But what the e-mail and the ads tell me is that all too soon I'll have to ditch the shorts and t-shirt, and the writing and solitude, in favor of professional clothes and endless discussions of departmental business.

    Would someone please tell these people that August is still considered a summer month?

    Monday, July 23, 2007

    OT: Slow food for slow days

    I think that it's called the "slow food movement" because it's opposed to fast food and wants to promote family dining and local merchandise.

    However, I suspect that it's called the slow food movement because every item you put in your shopping basket becomes an exercise in moral dithering: Raised nearby conventional produce or two-states-away organic produce? I know "conventional close by" produce should win, but what if it's something like carrots or potatoes, where you can really taste a difference? Also, what about the people who don't have the luxury of paying extra for the local/organic save-the-planet option?

    Fortunately, the area around Northern Clime has a lot of organic farms, some going back generations and some (to judge the age of the proprietors) dating back the early 1970s when people moved here and decided not to (or forgot to) leave. It also has farms with a lot of beans and wheat. At the farmer's market on Saturday, I could purchase the following--all organic, all local--without any dithering at all: several varieties of goat cheese (served at local restaurants for much fancier prices), tomatoes, round green squash, tomatoes, corn, crookneck squash, basil, English peas, small potatoes (purple, red, gold), raspberries, cherries, and, yes, beef for other members of the family. And the best part is that all the vendors had those WIC/Senior Citizens signs to accept food stamps or whatever.

    And one more stop on the slow food tour: picking up a metal (ceramic inside) Sigg water bottle so that I can carry water from the Brita pitcher at home instead of buying plastic bottles of the stuff.

    These are small steps, but at least they're something.

    Saturday, July 21, 2007

    Random bullets of breaking the Internet fast

  • I've finished a whole week of the Internet fast, although I had to break it yesterday because of department business. After I got online yesterday before 5, though, I ended up just doing work: I not only cleared up a bunch of things on the to-do list but actually made inroads into . . . the Shame Pile.

    Do you have one of these, too? I heard this term once from a colleague and forthwith adopted it. The Shame Pile is for those items that are too far gone even for the to-do list. They're the ones that make you wince when you wake up at night, or when you're trapped (when driving, for example) and can't do anything about whatever it is you left undone. To get something off the Shame Pile made yesterday a red-letter day.
  • Ferule and Fescue has exactly nailed the disorientation and craziness that happens from too much non-conversation. Breaking the Internet fast yesterday and having all those conversations, even virtually, was a great mood-lifter.
  • As part of the Internet fast (one that I'm trying to keep), I'm trying to stay away from the Chronicle and related sites, but Chaser has an excellent post about a Chronicle article that I did take a look at. Apparently, reading syllabi qualifies you to know all about the professor, his or her classroom manner, and the level of concern for students. Quotations are preferred, and anything less than a 6,000-word syllabus means that you're an uncaring soul who deserves to fall into the fiery pits of rate my professors. I'm with Chaser on this one: be clear, be direct, be specific, and quit sacrificing trees and paper to your philosophical musings, which the students will either divine or not, as their inclinations guide them.

    Oh, and when students ask the question "What do I have to do to get an A in this class?" they don't always want to hear "Here are the criteria for an excellent essay, one of which is an interesting, well-argued analysis of a work." If a student is not getting an A in the class, which is often when this question gets asked, no amount of explanation, whether written on a syllabus or delivered in person, will suffice unless it comes attached to an A as a final grade.
  • OT: Prius speed

    From CNN:

    "Al Gore III, 24, was arrested early in the morning on July 4 when Orange County Sheriff's deputies pulled him over for allegedly driving 100 mph in his 2006 Toyota Prius."

    Of the many thoughts that should have gone through my mind (too bad about the speeding, it's good he wasn't killed, etc.) my real first thought was this:

    "Yes! Now the world will know that the Prius is capable of kickass speed. It is NOT just a golf cart with better headlights."

    Somewhere, someone in Toyotaworld must have had the same reaction.

    Wednesday, July 18, 2007

    The Internet experiment, continued

    Notes from an Internet vampire (well, almost an Internet vampire, though the sun doesn't go down at 5 p.m., thank God):

  • I feel much more focused, but . . . boring. I have no conversation outside the manuscript. This may be all right, though, since the primary recipients of said conversations are the cats.
  • I miss reading blogs during the day!
  • If the FedEx or UPS guy comes by to drop off a book or ms. for review, I greet him like a long-lost brother.
  • Here is the good part. Today's total: 1800 words. They aren't all good words, and I have a lot to go, but they're still words.

    Eventually, this will even out, I hope.
  • Monday, July 16, 2007

    The Internet experiment

    I decided to put into practice some of those tips from and elsewhere about productivity. The chief one I thought I'd try is this:

    No Internet access until after 5 p.m.

    Here are the rules I set: NO Internet access until after 5 p.m., including checking bank balances, checking e-mail, reading blogs, reading newspapers, or tracking down the name of that incredibly obscure actor on IMDB. No looking up phone numbers or using the OED online. If I wanted to check on something, I could write it down and check on it after 5.

    Somehow, my days had become all about avoiding work: reading blogs, checking e-mail, looking up stuff online. I felt as though I had the attention span of a gnat, and as soon as I started working on a tough sentence, I had the impulse to go online and do something else.

    So far, it's working. I feel a lot calmer, somehow, and I'm getting a lot more reading done. The impulses to go online just for a minute to check something are diminishing. The writing is still coming along slowly, but it's better than before.

    Oh, and the great secret about e-mail in the summer is that no one is contacting me with grants, million dollar book contracts, or vital information on anything else--at least nothing that won't wait until after 5.

    Thursday, July 12, 2007

    Short update

    Not posting because I'm trying to get a piece of writing done that apparently doesn't want to get written. It's an unruly, willful thing and is forcing me to sit at the desk for long hours. This feels like a staring contest between my computer screen and me, and guess who's winning?

    I'll post more once the balance of power shifts.

    Tuesday, July 03, 2007

    Morning walk

    Morning walk
    Originally uploaded by undines
    I have become addicted to my morning walk. The route isn't that special or remote, though I hope to branch out, and it's only about 4 miles total, but it's the first exercise I have actually looked forward to for a long time. When I go to sleep at night, I'm actually excited about getting up early to walk; I don't even have to set the alarm. (Having a cat who thinks that only slackers sleep past 5 a.m. helps, of course.) Hearing and seeing the pheasants (squawk-AWK!) and quail is a nice side benefit, too.

    I hope to progress to running and thus to get in shape for some bike rides on the hills around here. They don't look like much, until you're on them.

    Just wanted to share something that is so much fun.

    Monday, July 02, 2007

    Personality test meme

    Your Score: Loser- INTP

    10% Extraversion, 60% Intuition, 86% Thinking, 33% Judging

    (Sorry--the picture was just too ugly!)

    Talked to another human being lately? I'm serious. You value knowledge above ALL else. You love new ideas, and become very excited over abstractions and theories. The fact that nobody else cares still hasn't become apparent to you...

    Nerd's a great word to describe you, and I seriously couldn't care less about the different definitions of the word and why you're actually more of a geek than a nerd. Don't pretend you weren't thinking that. You want every single miniscule fact and theory to be presented correctly.

    Critical? Sarcastic? Cynical? Pessimistic? Just a few words to describe you when you're at your very best...*cough* Sorry, I mean worst. Picking up the dudes or dudettes isn't something you find easy, but don't worry too much about it. You can blame it on your personality type now.

    On top of all this, you're shy. Nice one, wench. No wonder you're on OKCupid!
    Now, quickly go and delete everything about "theoretical questions" from your profile page. As long as nobody tries to start a conversation with you, just MAYBE you'll now have a chance of picking up a date. But don't get your hopes up.

    I am interested though. If a tree fell over in a forest, would it really make a sound?


    If you want to learn more about your personality type in a slightly less negative way, check out this.


    The other personality types are as follows...

    Loner - Introverted Sensing Feeling Perceiving

    Pushover - Introverted Sensing Feeling Judging

    Criminal - Introverted Sensing Thinking Perceiving

    Borefest - Introverted Sensing Thinking Judging

    Almost Perfect - Introverted iNtuitive Feeling Perceiving

    Freak - Introverted iNtuitive Feeling Judging

    Crackpot - Introverted iNtuitive Thinking Judging

    Clown - Extraverted Sensing Feeling Perceiving

    Sap - Extraverted Sensing Feeling Judging

    Commander - Extraverted Sensing Thinking Perceiving

    Do Gooder - Extraverted Sensing Thinking Judging

    Scumbag - Extraverted iNtuitive Feeling Perceiving

    Busybody - Extraverted iNtuitive Feeling Judging

    Prick - Extraverted iNtuitive Thinking Perceiving

    Dictator - Extraverted iNtuitive Thinking Judging

    Link: The Brutally Honest Personality Test written by UltimateMaster on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test