A sweet little fiction

So one time this culture discovered that a readily-available plant had a really tasty component, and they began harvesting, and then cultivating and later, processing and refining and making all kinds of analogs and variations on the tasty stuff. Everyone loved it, and it sold like gangbusters, and the refineries and plantations and products proliferated; money everywhere. Soon the white powder was in everything. Every household had a bag of it, but that was just for extra, since even things in which the taste of it wasn't desired usually contained at least a little. Many people just ate it by the spoonful anyway, or carried it with them in easily-gnoshable packaging — besides being tasty, it was energizing, especially in the heavily-refined and concentrated forms. If you speculated about how many people *needed* it to get through a regular day…but that was silly; nobody speculated. Everyone ate it. All the children. *Especially* the children.

Who knew how early on the side-effects started, the rates of diseases that were once rare spiking, the birth-defects, the overdoses and organ failures. When nobody's watching, a lot can happen, and nobody questioned the world's favorite food, especially not after a couple generations of inculcation. Only the furthest-flung and least-communicative cultures rarely or never ate it, and their comparative longevity and health was chalked up to a million other factors.

But generations take their toll, numbers can swerve sharply when pressures are applied to linked and dynamic systems, and by the time the culture sees it, their invisible group addiction to the machine-refined white powder from a harmless plant, will they be able to avoid dying out?

Posted in 'pocalypse, consumer warfare, drugs, ethics, psychology, science!, writing | 2 Comments

Things I am sorely tempted to post on Linkedin

For more than a decade, I've been asked regularly for tech-job advice, as someone who started young and worked their way up self-taught from basement mechanic to manager, fighting the women-in-tech battle the whole way.

Today I tried writing down my situation the way I would if I were coming to myself for advice the way so many others have, and I read it and asked myself what I'd tell a friend who sent me that message. And the answer I would give them was, "You're fucked."

I'm still so angry about the whole thing, about all the work I put in and all the crazy shit I did "for my resume" basically being completely worthless now (if not a detriment — ask me how many low-level would-pay-the-bills-at-least jobs I've not gotten because they don't want someone with management experience, or who might leave for a better job), that I can't quite tell if I'm actually being shoved out of tech by circumstance, or so sick of it after all the bad luck and obstacles and consistent lack of support from any employer ever that I'd actually just rather sling burgers (or words) for less than half the money than even try dealing with it again. …I know it seems like it should be easy to tell the difference between the two, but it's not. I ask myself constantly, "Am I really trying as hard as I can here? Or am I sabotaging myself because on some level I'm just so fucking done that I physically can't push past it?"

Sometimes you break up, and you realize all the things about your ex that made you friends to begin with. And sometimes you break up, and you realize that your ex was never really good for you *at all*; you just felt like you needed them, so you ignored it. Believe me, growing up in a shit town with "escort" being the most common job the other girls had in high school, having computers skillz seemed like a magic save. But no job I've ever had has given me any technical training, and the only promotions I've ever gotten were to shove me, the lone woman on the team, into more managerial and therefore less valuable positions, and every single company I've worked for that didn't go out of business let me go the second they could save money doing so, even if I'd worked my butt off for them for years.

It made me good money a few times, for a little while, but it's never been fulfilling, and it's been rare that it was even marginally okay or morally not-grotesque. I've not been the only woman on a team I was on once, a decade ago. (A high point was last year when the boss stood up at an all-dev meeting and apologized to me for my being the only woman there. I had to thank him, profusely, for being the only boss I'd ever had acknowledge it.)

This whole thing is somewhat like getting a divorce, the kind where you're not really sure if you're better off now or not. Tech broke up with me, but the moment it left I noticed how much nicer it was to not have it around. Maybe, if I can replace the key things about it (like, you know, paying rent), I'll eventually be glad it's gone. For now though, I'm still just so stung over the time wasted, the effort that feels like it was for nothing, and the sheer fail of the entire career I cared about so much for actually-literally-twenty-years, that it's hard to see anything past "Yeah, you're fucked".

Posted in technical-ity, the root of all wealth | 2 Comments

Happiness is an empty space

That's it — it just hit me, walking home.  What happiness is, and why it's so hard for almost everyone to find it, but almost indestructible in the people who do find it.

Happiness is not a thing — nor a feeling.  It is a lack of things and feelings.  It is space, where usually there's other things, things that cause pain and suffering.

There IS no "happiness", basically; happiness is a No-Thing.  But we still know it and recognize it and chase after it…we just typically never find it, because we think we're looking for "some thing or things that can get me [that feeling]".  But "that feeling" isn't a feeling, really.  It's the lack of other feelings.  

And the Other Feelings, the things that exist where happiness would go and prevent us from having it, are all related to one thing.  They all stem from one place, one circumstance, one person:  Me.

But — and this is crucial — not the real me.  

Happiness is the feeling of space for the real me to exist.  It happens when I've managed, however briefly, to shut up or shut down the false me (or mes; I'm sure there's more than one).

True happiness, the kind that can't ever be really taken away, the kind you see on Buddha-faces:  That comes from having killed the false-me, once and for all.

I'm not inventing this — it's clear in a million texts throughout history.  I'm realizing it.

Ironically, to respond to lack of happiness — especially deep, total, or hopeless lack of happiness — with the urge to commit suicide is not, in fact, stupid or illogical.  It's actually the system giving exactly the right answer…just not in a way we can correctly understand it.  Killing the real me (or disincorporating it; whatever) is a tragic mistake based on a kind-of-right idea:  What's making you unhappy is "you" — is the thing you're thinking of right now as you — so kill it, burn it, ignore it, forget about it, strip everything you can see of it away and let there be room for the REAL you to breathe, exist, and express itself.

And wham, unkillable happiness.

OK, more pondering and then next up:  How to kill your not-self.  I'm sure others have written about that too, so I'll do some digging and see if I can add anything useful.


Posted in better thinking | Leave a comment

I’ll stim with you

I saw myself in the subway today.  Twenty-five or so and Asian and wearing lipstick, but otherwise, me.

She was stimming like crazy.

People seemed to both avoid and ignore her, giving her twice the personal space of anyone else, but also never really watching or noticing her.  I watched her intently, at first in surprise — because I've never seen what I must have looked like, before I did all that work to get my stimming (the various outward expressions of my hyperweird brain) under control; it was fascinating — and then I watched carefully, the way you keep half an eye on someone carrying a huge stack of boxes, in case one falls and you can jump in and help.

She looked fine, mind you — at least to me.  She was pacing on the balls of her feet, flexing and bouncing against the ground as she paced, never really stepping the same way twice.  She walked past the wall repeatedly, knocking on it with different knuckles each pass; all the while her eyes darted to different things, and she kept up a constant half-silent conversation with herself, muttering and whispering.  If she'd been wearing headphones, it would have only looked like she was super into the music — which is one reason you'll rarely see me out without headphones; they're great cover.  But those are all things that I do, still, regularly when I'm alone, and that at various points in my life I've been unable to avoid doing no matter who was around.  They don't mean that I'm doing badly (though more of them does usually mean I'm stressed — but all change is stressful, even good things).  She wasn't giving any signs of doing actually-badly, and yes, I'm quite comfortable in my ability to tell the difference.

 I sat across from where she was standing on the train — I used to not be able to sit down on transit, either — and I held a book in front of my face, something I usually do even if I'm not reading, because again, it's great cover.  My headphones were also on, playing what most people would probably consider extremely loud, aggressive music, because in addition to making good cover for your odd or excessive movements, it turns out that headphones can provide enough aural stimulation to distract some parts of the brain that would otherwise be flapping your hands or tapping your feet or talking out loud without realizing it.

Part of me wanted, of course, to grab her and give her future-you hints like that:  Have you considered stupidly loud music?  Do you carry things in your pockets to play with?  (Here, have a few of mine!  I have *tons*.)  Have you learned to flip quarters or roll baoding balls while you walk yet?  –But of course, that would be rude, even if I honestly think that when I was twenty-five, I'd have fallen to my knees in gratitude if someone had grabbed me and said the same.  The struggle to not stim in ways that earn social punishment was not infrequently, at that age, too intense for me to go outside at all.

But there's a difference:  It wasn't, for her.  People on the subway in Boston ignore you, and while there are downsides to that, the upsides are amazing for the mentally-atypical (be they ill or just differently-wired).  She was clearly similarly neuroatypical to me — maybe Asperger's, as those similarities come up a lot — but she was relaxed about it; she ignored everyone and they ignored her.  Stimming on the train around here is no big deal, as long as it isn't super loud or getting anything sticky on the seats.  This is not true in public in the Midwest, where people generally pay a lot more attention and are a lot more flinchy about behavior that strikes them as "wrong" or violates herd-rules.  In fact, while I put a lot of work into smoothing out and controlling my stimming for a long time, it wasn't until I moved to Boston that it suddenly got a lot easier.  Why?  Simple: my stress-levels were lower.  People weren't staring, glowering distrustfully, or slipping away to go talk to that cop and point back in my direction — regular occurrences in Michigan — and so, while I might have still been doing some of my dumb stuff, I wasn't hyper-focused on OH GOD STOP ROCKING and therefore making it worse.  

On the downside (not just of Boston but everywhere), the people so politely ignoring her / us on the subway weren't doing so because they "got it", or knew that doing so was polite — that's just how they roll around here.  If she'd been acting mentally ill in a way that needed attention, I don't suspect they'd have done any better than the folks in the Midwest would have.  We still live in a world, a whole culture and multiple societies, where mental illness is invisible at best, and punished at worst.  She and I are lucky to be ignored when we're doing well, but if we're not, the only meaningful help we can ever expect is from each other.

I wonder if there's a mental health equivalent of an "I'll Go With You" button.  I'd like to have one, to out myself at least to other people like me as someone who you can grab if you need eyes, a voice, or help getting to an exit.  I don't for a second forget how lucky I am to be as crazy functional(-looking) as I am now, and have been able to be for most of this decade of my life; and I deal regularly with plenty of people who aren't so lucky.  I wish I could do more to help.

(It's funny, we understand "mental illness" so poorly in this country that simple things about it — like how you are equally lucky for your mental and physical health, and likely to experience loss of both at some point — aren't even common knowledge yet.)

I'm watching my ragged fingers as I type this, fingers with nails permanently shortened by decades of biting; but fingers mostly in good shape now, no blood or injuries like I carried permanently before.  I'm so lucky — and yes, have worked hard — but really, mostly, lucky; all the hard work has paid off, and that's on luck more than me.  

And the urge to help keeps bobbing back to the surface, even though I don't know what to do with it.  I wish I could have told her, in some way that wasn't outing her to people who didn't understand, that I was there, that I get it, and if she'd have needed me, I would have dropped my shit and helped her.

Posted in better thinking, ethics, psychology | 1 Comment

Truth Hurts (as it catches up)

This will give you a headache, but it’s a headache worth getting I think:

…The scariest opinion I have heard about this well-done little video is “I think that’s probably accurate, but I don’t want to watch it because I’d rather put off having to think about that world for as long as I can”.

That’s a pretty terrifying summation of the modern view of the technological future, innit? ::shiver::

Posted in better thinking, technical-ity, the root of all wealth | 2 Comments


(Title brought to you by the New England Fireball meteor that scared the pants off of us the other night!)

Hey, Internet!  I've been doing too many things to count; I am buried in projects, and I would be completely overwhelmed with stress too if it weren't for lovely people in my life insisting that I also exercise like gangbusters — so I'm holding up!  Feeling sore and hungry, but good.  :)

This means I've gotten *extra* behind on answering your excellent polyphasic emails, and wow do I hate that.  But this time I think I managed to do something to address how this keeps happening, so pardon all my exclamation points but WOOT, I'm really excited!

Of course anybody's free to email me, that's how email works; and I wouldn't give up some of the people I've met and conversations I've had that way for nothin'.   But the truth is that I can take a while to get to those emails, and sometimes they're from people who are planning or in the middle of an adaptation, and then I feel SO awful that I couldn't help.  But now I can.

In the upper nav-bar of this site, there's a new link where you can get more polyphasic help and advicewithin a few days, on chat or phone or video (your choice), by paying me for my time.  I've tried to set up this consulting option to be as easy, enjoyable and useful for everyone as I could; please, if you would, take a look and let me know how I did!  

Posted in polyphasic sleep | Leave a comment

Thankful, not sorry

Well, I'll be damned.

That's why I say "I'm sorry" too much.  In business emails, to friends who see me cry, to total strangers in passing — that's why I do all of that over-apologizing.  

(Shockingly, it turns out that the answer is not "because I have female body-parts"!  Who would have guessed, right?)

I do it because I mean to say "thank you".  I know, right?!  How crazy simple!  But it totally is that simple.  Here, I'll explain how.  Which will of course totally make it sound complex, but LOL that's how it goes.  Try explaining to someone how to lift their arm in taiji; it takes all day.  :)

A stranger holds a busy door for me when I have a full load of coffee, but I get jostled and splash them a bit.  "Oh! I'm sorry!" I say.  

In doing so, I've skipped to the end of a thought-process, when I should have responded to the person in the middle of it.  I've thought, "oh, I'm grateful to you for holding the door!  what a nice person.  oh no!  the nice person has now suffered a bad thing because they were helping me!  I didn't want that to happen!  I wish it hadn't!" and then I say "I'm sorry!" — as if my not liking the outcome is the thing that needs to be communicated.  But it ISN'T.  What SHOULD have been communicated is MY GRATITUDE.

I didn't cause the bad thing to happen.  It's not my fault, though it'd be awfully nice of me, since I was involved, to help repair it if possible.  Before the bad thing happened, someone did something nice for me, and I either skipped over saying thank you, or let it go in the interest of "sorry".  I can clearly see this being true to some degree in almost every "sorry" that escapes my lips which is not motivated by an actual, humble, I-fucked-up urge to apologize.  

(Sure, sometimes — probaby not enough times though — I also say thank you.  But it's clear that "sorry" gets way too much air-time…and also, from a consciousness perspective, it's a straight-up denial, one of those resistances-to-reality that hides a seed of arrogance.)

I'm going on a verbal rampage to see how often I can replace "I'm sorry" with "Thank you" and let's see what it does, shall we?

Posted in better thinking | 1 Comment

How Can I Get More Polyphasic Sleep Help?

Are you considering, planning, executing or finalizing an adaptation to a polyphsic schedule, and feeling the need for some expert assistance?

Well then, I have great news!  You can now hire me for personal help with your schedule, adaptation, or really anything else.  :D

…That's right, after years of offering my help for free as often as I could manage, and struggling (and failing, really) to avoid working a whole extra unpaid job, I'm finally going to take the leap and put a fair price on these services.  I'm hoping this will let me transition to offering my now-pretty-darn-experienced services to as many people as I can.  

I've done everything I can to make getting my experienced advice simple, affordable and flexible to everyone's needs.  There are two options — click the links to read about them in detail:

1.  You can quickly hire me for a one-time Consultation, really on any topic you like.  (Sure, it doesn't have to be about sleep…it's your money.  Flirting costs extra though. :)


2.  If you're looking for even more help with transitioning to a polyphasic schedule, we can talk about a more involved adaptation Coaching.

I want to take this spot to thank everyone in the Polyphasic community who urged me to find a way to offer more help — I do love the work, and meeting so many amazing people! — and for all of their suggestions, opinions, questions and support.  This is a really wonderful cross-section of humanity I've stumbled upon, and I'm proud to know you all.


Talk with me for 30 minutes about anything! 

*  Get your questions about being polyphasic answered
*  Get help with choosing and developing a schedule
*  Get my most recent and personalized tips for getting through adaptation, making your polyphasic lifestyle work in the real world, or just about anything else
*  Your consultation is guaranteed to happen within 72 hours (3 days) of your purchase — I know the questions of sleep-experimenters are often time-sensitive.
*  And best of all, you can choose almost ANY method of consultation that works for you:  Text chat, phone call, video chat…I can accomodate!

The cost is just $50, and that includes some time of mine beforehand to study up on your situation, if you like — so if you're already halfway through your planning, or have special circumstances that you don't want to take up the whole conversation describing, you can (optionally) send me an email beforehand and lay it all out, and I'll come to our talk ready to dive in.


Enter your email to schedule!

Need help really really fast?  For an extra $25, you can get a consultation scheduled sometime in the next 36 hours.  


Email to contact you at asap:

Prefer text-chatting?  So do I!  If you want your consult to be only over text — Skype, Hangouts, SMS, you pick, as long as all I have to do is type — then you get to take 10% off, because that happens to be the easiest method for me, too.  ::fistbump::

Consultation – Text Only – $45 (click this link to purchase at the discounted price)

And here's the option for if you want a high-priority (within 36 hours) consultation over text-chat only:  Consultation – FAST – Text Only – $67.50 (click to purchase at the discounted price)


I'm well aware that consultations are not going to be enough for some people — polyphasic sleep is attractive to people with intense lives and superlative goals!  

So, are you serious about succeeding at your adaptation?  Do you need to give it your 100%, do everything right the first time as much as possible, and have some money to throw at making that happen?  For the motivated and/or under-the-gun sleeper who wants the best possible chance of a successful adaptation, it's no lie that having personal coaching through the process can be a lifesaver.  Here's what coaching involves:

*  Help with planning:  Materials, homework, and conversations to help you get ready; help identifying and planning to meet your particular challenges; help developing a detailed schedule; and help setting up everything from alarms to wake-up calls to software to help you stay on schedule during the critical first months. 

*  Real-time help during your first week:  Wake-up calls (a reasonable amount, please :)) daily consultations and check-ins — a whole week of support and help (and, if history holds, of fascinating and fun conversations!).  I can't guarantee you'll succeed, obviously — and you should definitely have thoroughly considered whether a polyphasic sleep-schedule is a good fit for you before you move forward with purchasing coaching — but I'm a darn smart and experienced option available to give you your best possible chance, if you want it.

This can also include help setting up and using data-gathering mechanisms, for those who are interested in self-quantifying or getting detailed information on the process.

*  Post-mortem and follow-up assistance:   Making longer-term plans once the tricky first week is over is important:  There's still finalizing your adaptation / new sleep habits, planning for possible tweaks that might need to happen, and assessing what went right and wrong with your adaptation (plus organizing any data we gathered) so that you have an even better chance of success if or when you need to change sleep-schedules again.  I've found doing some kind of post-mortem assessment of my schedule changes to be super helpful for really "sticking the landing" and getting the most out of any new schedule.

The pricing for the coaching package is determined INDIVIDUALLY.  For the full list of services above, which involves several hours of my time per day for about ten days, the cost is $2500 USD — but maybe you don't want *all* of those things, or maybe you want more.  Everyone's situation is different, and I base the price I need on the time involved in giving you the help you want.  So let's figure out exactly what those should be together.  If you're interested in hiring me for Polyphasic Coaching, please email me your details.  (Serious inquiries only, obviously.  Having too much email to answer is what started all this!  :) )

Posted in polyphasic sleep | Comments Off on How Can I Get More Polyphasic Sleep Help?

Wow, the amount of stuff I write and never push “publish” on

Just…wow.  O.O

Pages and pages and pages…is it making me a better writer, or just giving me an out from hearing critiques that would be useful to me?  

I don't know, but I've never really found the happy medium between "anonymous enough to feel safe to write honestly" and "actually read by anyone", lol.  So I write a whoooooole lot of things that never get posted anywhere.  

On the upside, I'm actively sharing my novel draft with some early readers that I feel safe with, so once again, fiction saves the day.  :)


Posted in better thinking | 1 Comment

Replacing the First Link: Personal management to please a professional project manager

Oo, I think I've solved a big one:  The age-old problem (to me) of needing three very specific things from my personal organization software* and process/system, and having them be VERY hard to get in ways that don't interfere with or ruin each other.

(*not that personal org should or must be done with software, but it's inevitable that at least some of mine will be.)

Warning:  Organizational geekery ahead; please remember that I'm into this stuff anyway AND I do it for a living, so holy crap can I get nerdy with it.  (I am also, however, typing this for my own blog and have no desire to get scholarly with it — this is all just the tale of my overhauling my personal org system, and has no value to posterity whatsoever.  …Man, I love giving that disclaimer.  :D)

Here are the three major things I need in order to be organized:

  1. A place to brain-dump ideas for all my projects (be they art, life-management, personal goals, whatever)
  2. A check-off-able task-list
  3. A single view of my upcoming day and what things need to get worked on, with what priority.  A cheat-sheet basically, so I don't get buried in the bigger lists when I'm trying to work.   (This piece is important, and I learned about it the hard way.)
  4. (There's actually a fourth thing, and that's paper — I need access to a scratch pad at all times in order to, like, exist; and this cannot / yet be reliably done without paper.  But I'm skipping that for now, because it's a mostly-working system and doesn't participate in the overhaul.  Maybe I'll do a separate post on how I do the paper bits, someday.)

All of those things also have their own feature needs, but we can narrow them down to these three which all of them share.  They all need to be:

  • as simple to use as possible


    • The whole point of a good underlying system is to be as invisible as possible, and take up as little time in the actual use of it as it can made to
  • as portable as possible, both in daily terms and in terms of future-proofing


    • I can't lose all this data (especially from #1) if I need to move it, or would really prefer not to!  o.O
    • I need to access and modify these things from a pretty wide range of devices and OSes — having to go back to one computer or something to make changes is not okay; both time and ideas get lost.  I also need information FROM these systems delivered where and when I need it, which can vary a lot.
    • I need at least some automation in terms of integration — the less i have to re-write or manually move things between these 3 systems, the better (though some of it is inevitable and manual is not *always* the slower or worse way, especially if re-interacting with the items is likely to help me do them).
  • as long-lived as possible:  This is not a system I want to keep changing.  I want it to exist and to be able to continue to exist with minimal fuss.  Upgrades are not important (unless there are key features missing, in which case I'll have to look to solve those when I can — but I'm really happy with how few are missing from this setup!), but continuing to use my system as effectively as possible no matter how my hardware, software, or life changes is crucial.  (This is sometimes an argument for not using software at all, but after pondering it, I think it's safe to say the future presence of software in my life is at least as likely as the future presence of paper, if not more so.)

As a technical PM, I've used SO FREAKING MANY software and other systems designed to do all of these things, and professionally, choosing the right one for your team and environment is a huge decision (that often needs teeth grit and re-making, because if it isn't working, it's screwing everything up) — and managing your own stuff when "manage these 15 other projects for work" is just one item on that list is not easy for the best of us, lol.  Soooo my own personal system got tangled, smeared across a zillion services, tied up in other things like texting etc. that shouldn't even be part of it, and just generally became a mess over the last few years.  I needed to scrap it and build a foundational, underlying personal management system from scratch.

THIS system is for my PERSONAL management.  I use similar(ish) things at work, but this one should be segregated (I learned the hard way not to blend them >,<) and intended to persist no matter what upheavals come in my professional or technical life.  It's also NOT for writing or building fiction in; I use Scrivener for that and never, ever intend to switch; it's nearly perfect.  :)

What THIS stuff is all about is the first caribiner attached to the hard point:  My basic system for knowng about, ordering, and accomplishing all my tasks.  (Professional "Work" is just a big chunk of space I build into my day where I enter a sub-realm and work off of a separate system that's integrated with my team.  This system is a layer of abstraction above it, and yet, because it's an org system, it intersects with a lot of the same software as the management I do for work.  Make sense?  …Yeah, didn't think so.  :P)

I can't even begin to explain what losing your basic system to such a proliferation of software, tasks to manage, and upheavels of underlying process is like…well, yes I can, actually.  Imagine someone frantically trying to sort legos into sets that have to be shipped on a deadline, while comically more and more are constantly delivered and all the boxes keep tipping over.  That's basically been my organizational life for the last year.

However, I've been giving this a lot of attention lately, and I think I now have a system that will work!  I'm just putting the last pieces in, after making a lot of hard decisions and writing approximately four solid pages of frustrated question-marks and attempts to elucidate what I need and what I can flex on.  I feel like I ran the kind of marathon that the Office Masons from Futurama would design!

SO, here, for your edification and possible education and probable just-ignoring because seriously, Marie, nobody cares about this crap that excites you inordinately (but it's my blog, so deal! :) is what's figured out, documented, and about 90% in place as of today (woohoo!):

THE THREE PILLARS of the First Link

#1:  Personal project management: The Brain

I have my own, non-work projects that need managing:  Things like long-term health goals, writing projects, social and community things, plans for making stuff…all of that needs "project management" in pretty much the same sense as work, but where 1) I'm the only team-member who really counts / uses it, 2) things like gaant charts and reporting are of *zero* value (I mean this is kind of true anyway, in any environment, but not to get distracted), and 3) connections between projects could be everywhere, at any level, and are the most useful thing to track (besides items / thoughts themselves).  

When it comes to dropping off and visualizing ideas, and tracking the pieces and connections between the pieces of overall projects…holy crap I (so far) adore The Brain, which is technically "mind-mapping" software — that's just a fancy way to say it's project-management software that isn't built off of the basic idea of working on a flat surface as its underlying interface, which almost ALL of the others are (and which makes sense, because 50 years ago PM work was all done on whiteboards, tables, books, etc.).  The interface is just amazing, it's blisteringly simple and does pretty much exactly the one thing I want:  Lets me throw ideas into a pool and tie them to each other as parents, children, or "connected, generally speaking" — and then tracks all that so that when I pull on an idea, I can see all the connections.  BLAM.  One big freaking map of EVERYTHING I'm thinking about (and all the tools for hanging things off of objects, such as categories, due dates, etc. that I might want — including Google Calendar integration, which is huge; if I date anything in the Brain it automatically goes on my calendar!  Handy.)  

I'm still pretty early into building that map, but for personal project-management, it has miles and miles over any other PM-software I've used.  Some of its strengths (for me) in the personal realm are things I would not want to use in the professional one, but man, FULL marks for doing one thing and doing it well.  This is expensive (in the pro version – the free version is very usable, and all I need for now), well-developed software that I don't expect to go anywhere anytime soon, but the mind-map is exportable to various formats if for some reason I needed it.  It's not particularly fast to learn because it's so different, but for a good different interface, I'm fine with that.  If I used it for a long time, I could totally see buying it if the fancier features became important, but I don't suspect I'll need to.

#2:  The Dreaded Task-List:  Todo.txt

The task list is a hhhhhhard thing to get right, probably exactly because of its simplicity.  

For features, it should be sortable by dates, tags, etc., easy to copy/paste from, VERY easy/fast to get data in and out of on a second's notice from any device, but also INVISIBLE when you don't want to see it, because a task list is a black hole of distraction and ennui.  Generally I find that the less sub-lists and categories in a task list, the better, because I don't want to come there, dig around and look at or play with stuff — that happens in #1 — No, I want to drop things there and check them off like a dive-bomber in the night, and otherwise the only time I want to see it is when I'm putting together my #3, during which I want it to be as easy to see at a glance as possible.  Things that get buried in the list die forever, including my motivation.  :P  

So, simplicity, interoperability / ease of access from different devices, and longevity are all super important here.  All you engineers out there know what happens when you have three needs, right?  You get to pick two.  (The classic example being "cheap, fast, or good:  pick two".)

Fortunately, I have one bit of give — one place I can flex.  In my case, I have a VERY high tolerance for things that make me use my computers in an advanced or clever way, even if they're initially harder than using a shiny interface — I consider the education / practice in advanced computering valuable enough to sacrifice a little time.  And thankfully, that provides enough flexibility with our demand that the list be "simple" to let a winner rise.

Rise, that is, to the top of the STEAMING PILE OF AWFUL B.S. THAT IS THE WORLD OF TASK-MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE OPTIONS, OH MY GOD.  This is part of the reason that longevity is one requirement I will NOT move on when it comes to this:   PLEASE by all that's holy don't make me go back there and try all that shit software again.  It's amazing how painful bad design can make using something as simple as a task list.  ::shudder::

So the best option, given my requirements, seems to be todo.txt.  It's utterly simple (as long as you don't mind the slightly-advanced-computering bit, which I don't), works on almost any *possible* device (past, present or future), does what it should, and will never die because it's based on a standard formatted text file.  

Man, I love the solutions that come out of Github — seriously, hubot and chatops was killer enough, but this is just…well, not to be crude, but this is just the tits.  (And a woman wrote it, so…double tits!  :D)  Today I am GLEEFULLY SHOOTING IN THE FACE Todoist, Google Tasks, and at least 3 other places where my todo lists now proliferate, and just backing my shit all the way up to 1995 with a plain ol' task file.

Except that thanks to the todo.txt program, there are now many (potentially zillions, as it's open-source) options for viewing and working with that plain-old text file, easily, anywhere.  The basic / existing ones work fine (simple free phone apps, check), but down the road, I can even write my own scripts (or software, but it would really only take scripting to do) to change how it works, if I really want a feature I don't have.  HELL yes.

And it's freaking invisible like a task list should be.  I can glance over it when I'm creating my daily template (#3), swoop in with a keystroke or fingerpoke and add or remove items, and otherwise NEVER see it unless I want to.  Perfect.

And lastly,

#3:  The Daily Template:  Google Forms + Some Black Magic

Most people (though not all of course) do some version of the Daily Template:  Having some way to set up ahead of time, and look at during-time, the things that matter today.  I find it invaluable for two reasons:

1.  It makes me look the night before at what's up tomorrow, which helps me pretty much effortlessly do little prep things that increase my efficiency and lower my stress.  (Seriously, the stress-reduction from realizing the night before that you should find a dress shirt for tomorrow is quite significant!  Even just having some warning to think about such things ahead of time can be really handy when it comes to overall stress-level.)

2.  It gives me something to come back to when my day gets stressful or screwed up:  I will pull the daily template back out and ask myself, "ok so, how close to this can I stay?"  Even on a completely catastrophic day, being able to do even one thing I'd planned to, however unimportant, is hugely comforting and helps me recover from catastrophes much faster.

The obvious things that go on a Template are "what task-list items need to be done today"?  I, like many people, pick one that I'm calling super-important, and three that are less so but would be nice.  I don't stress it if the three don't get done.

But other, less-obvious things about a Daily Template type thing are also awesome.  I used to do my daily template on a piece of paper, in my early I'm-not-quite-used-to-this-office-thing-yet work life, and it was hugely helpful to jot down optional goals for projects, health (drink 3 glasses of water before noon), things to memorize (when feeling feisty / deprived of art, I would load the template with a poem to memorize the next day; more recently, I choose a song to practice or foreign vocabulary or writing to learn), or spiritual truths to contemplate (I'm a big fan of feeling out that, say, this is a good time to be focusing on deepening my commitment to self-improvement — and if I just jot that at the bottom of my daily sheet for tomorrow, I'll remember to meditate on it when I have time).  

So how the heck do I do this now?  Almost EVERY piece of software designed for #1 or #2 wants to also be my daily planning thing, and exactly NONE of them are as good at doing this as a single sheet of notebook paper (whose only downside, though sadly it's a big one, is having to always carry it / have it on hand).  But I finally found the answer!

Google Forms is something you've probably run into before (it's part of Google Drive; when you go to Create a New File, you can choose from Docs, Sheets, etc. and also Forms), and having used it a lot before (thanks, polyphasic community :D), I found the format really appealing for creating my daily template with.  With Forms, I can pull up my form on almost any device (it took 5 seconds to drop the link that brings up a fresh blank form onto my phone's homescreen, and I can get to it from anywhere I have email) and answer simple, pre-set-up questions about tomorrow:  What's the most important task?  What's your workout goal? — it's almost perfectly like filling in a sheet-of-paper template that way.  (I considered making a document that I could access on any device and just making it a paper-like template instead, and then editing the answers every day…but part of the reason this is less ideal is that once the template exists, I want to be able to glance at it, and I don't open random documents to just stare at them, nor do I want to.  I could print it and carry it around?  Bleah.  I mean, that'd be better than the stupid notifications my task list software currently sends me in an attempt to give me a daily template/list, but not a lot.)

So, Google Forms was a clear winner for input of the daily task-list, which is something I need to make myself do every evening, from any device, easily.  But what about making the day's template exist somewhere that I will notice it, look at it at least once, and can easily glance at it during the day?  Well, it turns out that someone wrote a free app (for Google Apps, so not, like, a totally random/unreliable thing) that emails you Google Form responses.  (This is also simple enough functionality that I feel ok about relying on it:  Forms puts its responses into a plain Excel-compatible spreadsheet in Drive automatically, which, if worst came to worst, I could script about a hundred different things that would email me the updates to it.  It's awfully nice that there's a dead-easy way to do it right now, though!  Took me thirty seconds to set up.)  And that's a PERFECT place for my daily list to be:  In my email, which I will definitely not miss, and which my regular work-flow has me looking at many times a day anyway.  WIN!

So now, every evening I pull up this simple, clean form on my phone or computer (where it's just a desktop link) and fill it out.  It is seven questions long, of which only two are required.  I glance quickly at my todo.txt task list and my calendar (easy on either device) to see if anything's coming up that has date dependencies I need to worry about.  If it feels like there's room to go looking for something to accomplish tomorrow, I can look in The Brain to see what would be fun/useful to do wrt project and idea implementations.  (I have a tag for items in the map that might make good day-tasks if there's a blank space, so I can see them all on one page, with one click, in seconds.)  I can even skip that step and just make "look in The Brain for another project step to take or project to start" a task for tomorrow, if I can't or don't wanna do it tonight.

Whenever I find out about a thing that needs doing "as some point", I put it in my text file / todo.txt.  This is extremely fast, as is checking off done items whenever I feel like it.  If anything starts to "come due" or get urgent, I just make sure it gets on a Daily Template form/sheet/thing pretty soon.  (I can also put due-dates on to-do list items, which is nice for sorting them by "due soon", but I don't rely on this for deadlines — that's what I have a calendar for.)

Whenever I have an idea, of any kind, related to anything, that I want to keep, it goes in The Brain.  I'm still both learning and reeling from the crazy new interface (omg, it has *great* keyboard shortcuts), but holy crap it works nicely and beats the HECK out of trying to store, and later find, the huge swarming mass of ideas in any other program, especially those geared towards more typical business PM'ing.  That I can date Brain items to make sure they don't get lost and have them appear on my google calendar is great, because The Brain is where things are more likely to get forgotten over time; but mostly these items are more generalized, things that can be done whenever I'm working on that project, but need to happen as part of it.  I go to this map to rub my chin and stare and make notes, like a war-general does with the big map of all the troops on the table.  :)

So those are my three foundational pillars of personal management, and how they're set up now that I've finally rebuilt them after life went Roman Centurion on me and salted the godsdamned fields of my daily routin on their way out after razing my schedule to the ground with repeated job-shufflings.  I feel like things are really making progress to not just being back on-track after a tough year, but to being improved and strong enough to hold up to the coming years and their inevitable toughness, too!  :D


Let me know what you think, if you read this far!  I'm totally interested in collaborating on maximizing the ease and efficiency of our, um, collective individual processes.


P.S. I'm going to read some poetry now, because zow that was a lot of clunky org terms in one post.  Here, let's make it some William Blake!  Many people know the first lines of this, but I think what follows is super interesting:


To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour.

A Robin Redbreast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.
A dove house fill’d with doves and pigeons
Shudders Hell thro’ all its regions.
A Dog starv’d at his Master’s Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State.
A Horse misus’d upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fiber from the Brain does tear.

He who shall train the Horse to War
Shall never pass the Polar Bar.
The Beggar’s Dog and Widow’s Cat,
Feed them and thou wilt grow fat.
The Gnat that sings his Summer song 
Poison gets from Slander’s tongue.
The poison of the Snake and Newt
Is the sweat of Envy’s Foot.

A truth that’s told with bad intent
Beats all the Lies you can invent.
It is right it should be so;
Man was made for Joy and Woe;
And when this we rightly know
Thro’ the World we safely go.

Every Night and every Morn
Some to Misery are Born.
Every Morn and every Night
Some are Born to sweet delight.
Some are Born to sweet delight,
Some are Born to Endless Night.  

Posted in better thinking, hacks, know thyself, roll your own, technical-ity | 4 Comments