No time for idle hands…

As most of you who follow along here will have noticed, I took something of a break from posting new content while I soaked in every moment of my Christmas vacation. They say a break every now and then is good for the whatever. Maybe it is. For the moment, at least, I don’t feel like every blank page is the enemy. Who knows how long that will last, but I’ll enjoy it for the time being.

Even though I wasn’t posting, my hands weren’t completely idle during the break. No matter how much down time I think I’m taking, I never really stop making notes or tapping out a few thoughts that might end up being the foundation for an interesting post. Right now, I have six potential future posts sitting in various stages from raw notes to decent drafts. They’ll probably make up the bulk of what I post over the next week or two.

It’s surprisingly nice not to be working from a blank slate against a daily 6:00 PM deadline. Even though it’s entirely self-imposed, the angst to get something ready is quite real. If I were the kind of person who made new year’s resolutions, making sure I had plenty of material in the queue would be a good one. I’m not that kind of person, of course, so I fully expect that by the end of the month every post will be a race against the clock. 

What I learned this week…

I’m sure I learned something new this week. Meandering through seven whole days without picking up one remotely interesting tidbit feels like it should be hard. Actually it feels like it should be impossible if you have any kind of inquisitive mind. To be fair, I’m sure I did actually learn more than one new thing as I was pouring through the latest hundred-odd pages of Pax Britannica. Those new things, though, aren’t really the kind of nuggets you bring to your blog on Friday night. Well, I sure some people do, but that’s not how we do things here.

The fact is, I’ve scoured my memory for the better part of the last hour hoping to tease out one little factoid that I could turn into a paragraph. I’ve been soundly defeated in that effort. My post-work Friday afternoon brain dump seems to have eradicated more than the stuff time stamped during business hours.

There’s also the very real possibility that I’ve completely overestimated my ability to remember random minutia. I try to make note of the interesting stuff, but even that system seems to have failed me this week… and maybe that’s this week’s lesson. It turns out I really can’t rely on my internal memory to keep track of jack shit anymore and need to make a conscious effort to be a better note maker.

Yeah, I guess that’s what I learned this week. It’s lame and I’ll probably have forgotten it by this time tomorrow, but there it is.

Meeting notes…

I wish I could tell you that I make some of this up just to have something to post, but the fact is most of it is “ripped from the headlines” of day to day life. Today’s post, for instance, comes directly from a meeting I happened to be stuck in for two hours last week.
Without exercising anything other than the most basic editorial control to allow for spelling, here’s what crosses my mind while I’m doing my best to look like an attentive and responsible adult:
– “We’re on your calendar to talk more about the calendar.” WTF? Really?
– Oh look, another meeting where the only output was lost time. Glad we didn’t accidentally do anything productive.

– Yeah, we have plenty of “management ‘tools'” around here already.

– It’s apparently time to play an exciting game of “Who the Fuck is on First?”

– Yes please, let’s add more training requirements because I’ve got nothing but free time.

– “We have a plan.” Yep. Been hearing that phrase for the last six months… still no plan.

– Yay! Let’s schedule another recurring meeting!!!!!1!

Seriously, folks, these are the only notes I took during that entire meeting. I’d have been happy to make note of anything that might have somehow been relevant to doing my job more effectively or efficiently, but that’s really not the purpose of these meetings. If you’re still trying to guage my level of my boredom, it’s best to imagine every other inch of the page filled with doodles… and then multiply how bored you think I was by a factor of three or four and then you’ll be in the neighborhood.

You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers…

Because I’m perfectly comfortable being lazy and letting blog-worthy ideas come to me instead of chasing them down, I’m opting to respond to a question posted on my Facebook page in response to last night’s blog post. I’ll apologize in advance for the 24 hours delay in getting back to you, Jess, but I hope the fully formed response makes up for its less than timely delivery.

The question: What tools do you use to keep this list and how often do you go to it? And is that just the blog list? What about ideas for books and such? How do you keep track of everything when there is limited time to address any of it? Inquiring minds want to know.

The answer: Starting from the last part of your question, let me go on the record as saying dealing with limited time is the bane of my existence. I’m going to assume for purposes of discussion that I’m not alone in that sentiment. Between a day job, the blog, a couple of longer-term writing projects, and the other mandatory ephemera of life demanding attention, there is always more to do than there is time to do it. I try to keep this in check by an occasional ruthless culling of priorities. Every few months I physically make a list of everything I do as part of my day-to-day routine, rank order them, and then cut away as may at the bottom of the list as I can get away with eliminating.

This method has the unfortunate side effect of having sliced away most of what you might consider hobbies, unfortunately. It’s also led to a greater than reasonable volume of dog hair residing under furniture and in the photocarpets than I’m entirely comfortable with. Having, as I do, a fairly wide OCD streak, learning to accept that dust is unsightly but probably isn’t going to kill you has been a particularly difficult lesson to digest. I’m sure there are very good writers who find some other way of managing their time and getting it all done, but this is a method that works for me. Mostly. If you’re out there with kids or husbands or wives demanding attention, yeah, I’m not sure how you’ll make all that fit. Mercifully the only living creatures I’m responsible for are basically satisfied sleeping under the kitchen table while I do my thing.

Now when it comes to the meat of keeping track of ideas I try to keep it as simple as possible. I know there are a metric crapload of apps specifically designed for list making, but I tend to rely on something simple and understated – the Notes app that came installed on my phone. I chunk out the big ideas into either blog ideas or book ideas with one extra category left over specifically for issues I want to feature on Thursdays as part of What Annoys Jeff this Week. Since I usually have one or two other works in progress on hand at any given time, those generally have their own “note” as well so I can keep them segregated and avoid having a list so long as to make it functionally useless.

I refer to my lists fairly often, though some see more action than others. I try to add ideas as they come to me during the day or especially at night if I wake up with something that feels particularly important. As an aside, no matter what idea comes to you in the middle of the night, write it down so you can give it another look in the light of day. 3AM is a terrible time to make decisions about the virtue of half formed thoughts. Likewise, whipping out your phone in the middle of a deadly dull meeting to jot down the most unintentionally funny thought of the day is frowned upon. When I find myself in those circumstances, painfully separated from the electronic world, there’s no substitute for ye olde pen and paper (provided you transcribe the important parts over to your electronic filing system before your great ideas are lost to the shredder). I’ve lost more “good ideas” than I can imagine by simply assuring myself that I’m sure I’ll remember it later. The hard truth is there isn’t one chance in a hundred that you’re going to remember anything more than the fact that you had an idea that you neglected to write down.

The best and only advice I can give on any of this is to find a system that works for you and apply it mercilessly all day, every day. If you’re going to write five, six, seven times a week, it’s the only way I’ve come up with to even attempt to keep the pipeline full of new and semi-interesting ideas.