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I have, once again, felt stuck, spinning my wheels in the mud. There is an unpleasant, and possibly vicious, cycle at play here in my head: my planning falls apart, I feel like I am not getting anything done, my anxiety spikes, I cannot plan cogently. Repeat and repeat and repeat like some damned overwrought Philip Glass piece. I am trying to look at this dispassionately, because if I can understand how this happens, maybe I can head it off next time.

There are a few factors – health, political chaos, and too many months of uncertainty at work. Having a work and personal phone, and a work and personal computer, and disconnected accounts across both is really not helping either – I keep dropping things between the various calendars and todo lists, which has been exacerbated in the last few months by traveling. You would think that separating work and non-work would be easy. I can partition off my 37.5 hours and leave it at work, can’t I? Well, no. Because I’m trying to juggle calendars and waking hours and mental effort between work and non-work, and I cannot just turn off my brain at the end of the working day. Increasingly I feel like I would do very well if I cloned myself at least twice, so that different instances of myself could live full and uncomplicated lives. And I really resent the 3+ hours tied up each day in commuting, even while I know other people are doing the same or worse.

A side note on the 3+ hours commuting: you might think I could use that time to Do Something, but the simple physical fact is that a reasonable amount of that trip is walking to and from and around tube and train stations, and then once on the tube or train I’m traveling in overcrowded conditions that really, really don’t support pulling out a book, laptop or phone to Do Stuff and Improve Myself. At best I’m able to listen to podcasts. At worst my brain is turned to overcooked mush incapable of doing anything useful at all.

I’m going to try, again, to address the list-of-stuff more rationally with the tools I’ve been using for a long time.

For a start, I’ve decided to be relatively rigorous about separating out work and non-work. It’s likely to remain a pain in the arse that I am working off separate calendars though, so I will need to investigate how to best reduce that pain factor. Aside from that, the simple task lists can remain separate, although if it’s tasks around learning that I will be doing in my own time, I will put that in the non-work lists rather than the work lists.

I’m using a fairly limited set of tools, and I can make this work if I am a little bit disciplined:

  • Calendar. I have two calendars, linked to my Google account and a shared Google account with my partner. It took quite a few years for Apple and Google to get their act together, but now this just (usually) seamlessly synchs across various screens without effort. There will be some double-entry as I need to keep work and non-work calendars at least informed of each other;
  • Reminders: The Apple ‘Reminder’ app has a good interface for quickly noting stuff that I need to do. If I ever remember to use Siri with it, this may be even quicker, or at least surreally confusing. The benefit for me though is I have this linked to Things, so that when I launch Things it will move items from the Reminder app into it’s own inbox.
  • Things: I have used this since it was in Beta, (good grief, that was over ten years ago), and it remains one of the examples I use as a perfect app – it just works, and it does one thing, simply and elegantly. I do need to update it to the latest version, as that provides some nice quality of life features, but that’s for another day. For me, I think there are three key ways to make Things not an overwhelming complex list. To begin with, I should only create tags and areas of responsibility as need arises, i.e. only create them if none of the existing are useful. Next, I have always struggled with having a mix of huge and tiny tasks, and need to ensure that any huge task is treated as a project that can be decomposed into smaller tasks. Basic stuff, I know, but this remains a key cause of my anxiety – having a huge monolithic thing that I want to do, and singularly failing to progress it at all. Finally, I need to have the habit each morning with my coffee of looking at the list, and in true GTD fashion shuffling “someday” to “next” and “next” to “today”.
  • EpicWin is silly, but useful for prompting me to do the repeated chores. Again, I just need to have the discipline to use it, until it becomes a habit again. Also, the intent is for these repeated chores to be habits – such as writing up and publishing a wandering waffle like this.
  • Trello: we have a shared Trello board which lists, Kanban style, things we intend to purchase. I realised that I need to keep this in synch with Things, i.e. that anything in Things that would involve a purchase needs to go into Trello, and most of the items in Trello should also be in Things as they are likely to involve me running around and doing something about them.

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