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I was supposed to be sitting down to write a piece as part of the blog tour on Parenting and Creativity. My piece was going to be about coming to terms with the anger of discovering the feminist line of “women can have it all” that had been pushed on me in the 80s and 90s had turned out to be a complete and total lie. I’d spent 18 months or more being angry about it and then having to work through it. And I had lots to say on the topic.  Instead, something parenting related happened to me that completely paralysed all creativity. For so far, a month.

I had a pregnancy related complication – nothing so rare that they didn’t know how to pick it up or what to do with it, and there are very safe treatments and tests. And I’m okay now (on maintenance and being monitored and managed) and the baby is fine. But it was quite the experience to live through. It turns out, it’s not very reassuring to have your GP call you after hours, send you to the ED and call ahead so that when you arrive, they triage you straight through and you already have 2 nurses setting up an ECG for you in the bed you are about to live in. I feel like you can judge how serious things are by how nice to the nurses are to you and they were all super nice to me the whole time I was there.

But bottom line is that what I had was life threatening and shit got really really real. You know when life suddenly tunnel visions and everything else is just a blur and you suddenly know exactly what is important in life, and to you, and therefore that everything else just isn’t? Yeah that. I was in that space for I guess about 48 hours and I learned a lot of things about myself. And about life. And even though, by the time I went home I was fine and everything was okay and had the best possible outcome, it was really hard to get my brain to change out of that gear and go back to Life. And you know, all the stupid little decisions like what carpark to choose and which milk to buy.

I also experienced some anxiety issues whilst in hospital. I discovered THE WORST place to be in a hospital is in the overnight observations ward called Medical Assessment. Especially if you’re a germophobe. Also, they don’t cope well with pregnant women who aren’t there for hyperemesis gravidarum aka they forgot to feed me for very long stretches of time. The lovely nurses did smuggle me out all kinds of tiny packets of biscuits and cakes. And once, whilst waiting for a nuclear dye scan, I got a airplane snack pack-like meal.

So, by the time I got home, my brain had been beaten about a fair bit. It felt like it had glitched into a hung screen or like it was buffering before it could stream again or something. It felt broken. I lost the ability to read fiction, to edit or proof, to slush read!, and even to sew or knit. And I couldn’t handle much TV above a cooking show. Normally my response would be to dive into a Gilmore Girls rewatch but I couldn’t face the speed of their dialogue and also the whole drama of that overarching plot.

Oddly though, I suddenly had great capacity for paperwork and book keeping. So weird. I think possibly because that kind of work doesn’t require any creativity and I suddenly had this new focus of being able to be ruthless and decisive about things. I was able to tackle two overladen and spilling all over the place in trays and just steadily work through it all piece by piece. I actually found myself using the GTD process of collecting, collating and processing the way it’s supposed to be applied. I still don’t know how someone who is starting from scratch can seriously get their whole life into GTD  in just 3 days. I’ve been at it for 3 or 4 weeks now and I’m only just almost on top of it. But I’ve been suddenly able to pick up a piece of paper, ask myself what it is, decide if I can just bin it, actually delegate it if not, or do it if it would take less than 2 mins. And my onset of ruthless decisiveness has helped me just make calls on things. Like, say, if I no longer have the ability to answer a question (like, I didn’t record crucial information so couldn’t move it forward without knowing that), then I’m not suddenly going to have this information if I leave it in my in tray (leaving it there for 2 years hasn’t helped) and it’s likely to not even be relevant anymore. So I did this thing where I just filed it and moved on with my life. OMG. So liberating. And in so doing, I’ve managed to almost completely sort out all my paperwork, finances and royalty reports. Jobs that I would rather poke myself in the eye with a fork than do instead of anything else that is creative, normally.

And in being ruthless and decisive, I’ve managed to learn how to delegate. So much so that I want to get even better at delegating. Sometimes, it’s just admitting to yourself that you’re procrastinating on actioning something because you have feelings related to that – an email you have to write or a question or favour you have to ask. I’m really lucky to have an awesome and enthusiastic team of peeps at TPP – I wouldn’t have been able to get through a lot of what’s been going on this year if I hadn’t been able to rely on them for help getting things done. And it turns out, it’s not a negative to admit the ships too big to be run by just one person these days. When you suddenly take ill, it’s actually really useful to not be the only person with access to the email accounts and other admin things as well as not being the only person who knows what’s going on. Up til now it’s been both scary to let other people see the warts and all and also, I’ve not wanted to ask people to do boring jobs. And all that does is slow you down and sabotage the potential. As you can see, I’ve really jumped on board with this delegation thing – because it also turns out, it’s easier to write someone else’s scary email for them when you don’t have the feels. I knew this, having been other people’s admin person before. I guess I just felt bad asking other people to do things for me that I was personally capable of doing (if I actually had 48 hours in every day).

So suddenly things are moving forward at TPP in several directions at once. It would normally feel scary but doesn’t because I completely trust the team. And this being immersed in the whole paperwork thing enabled me to do some things like set in place spreadsheets for calculating complex problems for ongoing bookwork upkeep rather than reinventing the wheel each time. Something I might have been doing until now, ahem.

I am now just slowly feeling like my brain is unlocking from its screen freeze. I’ve managed to get back to some editing. I’m almost completely on top of all intrays and inboxes. I’ve not yet got back to crafting or reading yet but I think in the next couple of weeks that will happen. I’m very keen to maintain some GTD processes though. In preparing for a newborn’s arrival in about 4 months, I’d like to have as much as I can be on just ticking on over processes. I definitely learned with my first one that writing things down and preparing as much as you can when you have the time available in order to be able to pick up and action a small thing later in a small window of opportunity, you can kinda stay on top of things.  If you can not sweat the small stuff!



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Episode 16: At least we’ve got cushions now?

The cushion covers came from Sunburst Outdoor Living

David Allen’s Getting Things Done has free online tools.


A photo posted by Alisa (@girliejonesadventures) on

Join my craft circle:
Ravelry: girliejones and Champagne and Socks Craft Circle Group
Twitter: @champagnesocks or @krasnostein

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December 28   Craft Space Organised!

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In a nice case of multitasking I finally got round to organising my craft space.

In order to be able to do an inventory of what projects I have in progress (aka WIPs) and what projects I would like to get to or am excited about starting or having invested money in and completely forgotten about, I had to pull everything out and look at it.

GTD requires you to figure out the next action for every project you have on your radar. Without a next action you can’t actually progress something. And most of the time, when you don’t have a next action, it’s because you need to do some thinking around it, or some emotional development in relation to it. If you don’t have a next action and you aren’t planning on figuring out one, that project should not really be on your current projects list – you aren’t working on it, and you’re overloading your lists by having it there.

Getting reinvigorated with my GTD systems from the ground up, I decided to start with my craft projects (at some point I’ll move onto scarier things like thesis, and publishing). I started a new section in Omnifocus that is my current working space (at some point I’ll deal with all the other abandoned bits in that program) and I took inventory of everything in my craft life. I pulled out everything in my craft room, I fossicked for all the other stashed WIPs all round the house. Everything was accounted for and logged. And everything got a next action. If I didn’t want a next action for the project, I queried if I was really wanting to finish it. Sometimes the next action was – toss out, frog or unpick, – and those ones I did on the spot. A bunch of knitting projects that were stalled cause I hated how they were going got unpicked, the yarn restashed. Every other project got it’s own project bag and prepped to be grabbed to be worked on next.

And then I prioritised all my WIPs into what I will currently work on, what I will work on next (in an On Hold folder) and then Someday Maybe has projects I would like to start or would like to do. And the idea is, things On Hold get to be brought into WIPs one at a time as I finish one of the current active projects. Some of the current projects just needed buttons sewn on or ends finished up. Those went to the top of the pile and I already have some finished objects to blog about later. Here’s a screenshot of what the projects look like in Omnifocus:

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 8.13.34 PM

A couple of shots of what some of these folders break down into:

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 8.14.31 PM Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 8.15.13 PM

Everything is dated 2014 for when it entered the system. New things that come in will get dated 2015 so that I can assess progress at the end of the year, assuming their is a constant number of projects but some turnover.

I really really enjoyed the process of GTDing the WIPs (ooh look at all those fancy abbreviations!). It helped me to see that putting something in On Hold is about being honest with myself about what I can realistically work on at the same time and what is splintering my attention too much. And that putting something On Hold til I have space is not forgetting about it, or not being committed to it, it’s time management. And I get to be excited about having space/time freed up by finishing something to grab a project from On Hold to work on. That excitement turns into a positive energy injection into finishing things that have become boring or tedious. I’m hoping this will help me when I face my scary study and work projects and next actions.

For my sewing projects, I located a bunch that just require me to buy batting so that I can baste and quilt the quilts. And a few that haven’t worked that I need to admit and just unpick. I also found that a few project kits I’d bought and put away as being too complicated for my skill level are now not so. I queued up a few and did things like cut templates and cut out all the pieces and pinned ready for sewing etc. And I located supplies that needed to be bought before I could proceed. And then I reorganised all my fun fat quarters and other fabric stash and put away all the rest of my supplies into a space that has already been proven to be much more fun to approach and work out of. It replaces a space that always required sorting through mess to find things, so progress was put off when locating the next supply was needed. The space was stressful because approaching it always called out it needed to be tidied or decisions made on abandoned things. I now have a craft cupboard that looks like this:

On the top shelf, my most prized part of my fabric stash. I stood and ironed all my fat quarters, and other pieces, and then made mini bolts to wrap them (see tutorial here). So much nicer to look at and also to take out and then put back on the shelf. The second shelf has quilt WIPs. Those on the left are finished tops with their paired backing just waiting for batting etc. (Underneath them is another Jinny Beyer kit project waiting to be started.) The middle has current piecing quilt WIPs. And the jars are my sorted scraps.

More jars of my scraps sorted by colour. Ages ago I bought some books on scrap projects and sorted all my piles (bags) of random scraps from other projects in preparation for some scrap quilts I want to make (like Sunday Morning Quilts). I’ve since realised these scraps are likely best for string scrap quilts and the fabric that is the rest of my stash (which is elsewhere to this cupboard) might actually be considered scrap. Knitting supplies to the right on that shelf. And below more quilt WIPs, jars of scrap fabric, and supplies in the boxes.

Not shown is the bottom shelf which has a basket with a whole bunch of knitting WIPs in bags ready to go.

This means that now my craft space is a place I can work out of rather than avoid. C is always annoyed because I leave craft all over the place and it’s usually because I’ve got nowhere to base myself for crafting. I also leave everything out in order, as I was working on it, to be able to pick it up and work on it again later. That is turning out to be a fallacy. I’ve discovered that packing away my current project at the end of the day doesn’t mean I will forget I was working on it the next day. It does though mean that my living spaces are clear and uplifting, and that all the things I need are always back where I expect them when I go looking for them. And if the “away” place is organised, I can actually work out of that organised storage space rather than co opt another one. So I can put the next stage of say a quilting project (the next pieces after the ones I am piecing) away and then go and get them when I’m up to them. It’s life changing! So much so that this one small act has flowed over for me to the rest of my life where I’m trying to put things back where they belong as soon as I’m done with them. Turns out maintenance is much easier than tidying up from first principles. (Honestly, I used to be a very neat and organised person. I think you never notice the habits of that kind of a life til you end up in the other extreme and have no idea how to get back.)

Today’s drink: La Pastora, Natural Catuai by Five Senses

Today’s total word count: 1596

Year Total running word tally from (Nov 24): 17 594

Progress on: More end of the year relaxing and knitting. Writing.

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December 12   On changing one big thing

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A few Saturdays ago now (how does time do that? Seriously, I blink and suddenly it’s December and my baby is kinda walking), I spent a night alone in a hotel. To relax. And spend time aloooone. It was very surreal – I had lunch in the city with friends and we tried out a new high tea place. It was fine. The highlight was catching up with them for two+ hours and hearing how everyone was doing. And getting lots of tips and recs for things! After tea, I headed off to my hotel to hang out by myself. It was odd. I popped out once to grab coffee and a muffin (Perth CBD is not really awesome if you want coffee at 3.15 FYI) and a second time to grab dinner (9Marys – the eggplant curry was delish). But otherwise, I holed up in my room.

It was the very first night I’ve spent apart from the baby. Ever. I packed five different craft projects. And downloaded latest episodes of several of my favourite podcasts. I made sure I had work and reading on my laptop. I settled in for Me Time. And I had a really great time. It’s been ages since I could catch up on podcasts and I finally got to listen to the final episode of my all time favourite Cast On by Brenda Dayne. It’s a knitting podcast and my example of one of the best ways to priduce a single host podcast. It’s been nine years now, and Brenda feels her project is complete and it’s time to move on to others. It was a really sad podcast for me, what will I do without the dulcet tones of Brenda Dayne to soothe in my hardest of days? I’ve listened to her to quell panic attacks in LAX and on public transport during my hardest of anxiety days back in the very dark early 2000s. She’s made hours and hours of my long commutes not only bearable, but fun. I’ve listened to her regale Today’s Sweater and traditional dyeing and spinning methods in Wales and her gardening escapades. Who will tell me now that if it’s cold, I should put on a sweater, that’s what their for??? I admit I shed a tear or two. I shall miss her dearly. I spent the hour or so sewing on a new project I dug out during my craft room clear out and declutter. More on that hopefully soon!

After the final ever episode of Cast On. I listened to the first, or close to first, episode of new podcast I found on GTD – GTD Virtual Study Group. I’ve listened to probably all or at least most of the podcasts available on David Allen’s website (and have a membership to Connect because I am deeply deeply embedded within the cult) and I just wanted something new/more. This podcast is a recorded group phone call and it looks like different members take turns presenting the session. The first episode of is titled “Tackling Immunity to Change” and I liked the sound of it because maybe that’s what my problem is in not getting any of my 2013 To Do List done. Well, maybe that’s what part of the problem is? Obviously the other part was that they weren’t written as achievable goals that lent themselves to easily broken down parts for action.

This episode drew on two books that basically address why you have a stumbling block to achieving change. the presenter asked you to pick just one Big Thing you want to work on about yourself. Then she talked you through the process of breaking down why it is that you aren’t whatever the opposite is – so, say you picked “Be a better listener”, then why aren’t you a good listener? I picked wanting to be better at GTD, or having GTD at cruise control, mostly because, well, why am I listening to this podcast otherwise?

The process involved soul searching to figure out what it was that you most fear about doing the thing that you are resisting (ie want to change) and what would be the Dire Consequence if that thing you feared happened. This was such an interesting process. As I worked through it, I uncovered that I think my worst fear is of missing an idea. Or missing a great idea. So in the case of my GTD practice, for “stuff” that is yet unprocessed – undealt with emails, items in my in tray, jobs left to start, even – there is still the possibility of my not missing a hidden idea. Once I’ve done the capturing process I could have missed something and lost it forever. That is my fear. And I guess extrapolating from that, doing something, or choosing a path, automatically cancels out the other option/s. And what if they were better/right/correct? Drilling down into that to find the Dire Consequence, I think, that’s missing or wasting an opportunity, or a chance to do something or making an irretrievable mistake. Or that the idea will be too hard for me to nut out how to solve/execute it.

What you then were required to do is to point out to yourself, in your daily life going forward, every time this Dire Consequence is proved false, that it’s a false consequence. So, for example, if your fear is that asking for help will make you look weak or stupid, notice how many times after you ask for help, people are willing or actually want to help you and how they don’t think you are stupid. In my case, I began to process my “stuff” and as I moved further through my in tray, I discovered that actually I come up with the same idea several times. I’ll leave myself the same idea on different pieces of paper or I’ll write very similar notes/conclusions about thoughts (I’ll wrote the exact same Resolutions To Do List two years apart). That actually, I step through the same thought process more than one time. Meaning, it’s ok if I miss an idea. I’ll probably catch it the next time through i.e. FILE that piece of paper as reference, trust I captured all I needed to from it for my Actions To Do List and MOVE ON WITH MY LIFE. The standing paralysed by fear of missing anything is self fulfilling. If I don’t do anything about something, I will definitely miss/waste the opportunity. Something only done 80% as well as I think I can do it is better than not at all (and still an A+). And funnily enough, I often say that sometimes there is no right or wrong decision or choice, you just choose one and move forward. My own rhetoric proves the false consequence.

It was a very interesting hour, in any case. I’m still not at GTD cruise control and in fact all my lists I was making at the time are currently sitting in my in tray waiting for processing. But this idea of missing/wasting has been an interesting one to dissect. I think it’s why I read so slowly so I’ve been challenging myself to let go the idea that I need to memorise books as I read them. That it’s okay if I miss some vague description or a bit of the subplot or whatever. And I’ve been trying to put things away after I finish working with them for the day – be that PhD materials or craft supplies – because I don’t need to leave things out to remind myself I am working on them. The False Dire Consequence is that I will forget what I was working on and never come back and finish it. But actually, an ordered life where everything is where you need to find it when you go looking makes for a much happier and productive life. Who knew??

I think the same reason is why I fear the weekly review. That doing a review of all my projects and what I need to do next on them draws a line under them and I might miss things. Or it requires you to trawl through reference material for projects and with the fear of missing something I think this means doing it from first principles every week. Or if I don’t do it this thoroughly every time, that I might be missing ideas. Or that these will be the only ideas I ever have. Well, that and that it would take all day because I have so many projects going that I like to believe I am currently working on. I’ll work on that later.

Not long after doing this podcast workshop, I was in my counselling session and we were talking through why I try to do so many things. I had also recently listened to another episode of the same podcast where Leo Babauta (The Zen Habits guy) had been talking about how you should just pick the 5 things most important to you in life and work on those and anything that didn’t make that list you should quietly ease out of your life because they aren’t a priority. This gave me quite a panic because my list is probably 50 things and they are all a priority! So my counsellor was all “let’s unpack that” and we discussed why I feel such an urgency to do so many things. And really all I could keep coming back to is that I don’t/can’t waste time and I have a fear of wasting time and I have so much that I want to get done.

I think in part, a characteristic I have long worked on is “to strive to be better” but the thing about striving for something is that you never get there – which makes sense when you want to be sure you push yourself to achieve beyond what you believe you can do or to contribute to improve, be better, be more than. All good things. But the problem is, that means you never achieve, or you never feel happy when you achieve. And it falls into the “you can never be too rich or too thin” etc. Can you ever be happy? Can you ever feel that you deserve to enjoy your wins?

All open ended thoughts because I didn’t come to any real conclusions in that session other than maybe I am in a bit of an existential crisis of sorts. Questioning what my personal meaning of life is. But at least the conclusions I have taken away so far are not to be afraid of missing ideas. I have plenty and sometimes the same ones over and over :) It’s okay to let them go. And that’s something. I guess?

firstcoffeeToday’s drink: San Guillermo Costa Rica by Five Senses

Today’s total word count: 2184

Year Total running word tally from (Nov 24): 13 387

Progress on: writing, running, knitting projects

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December 5   Grey skies

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Rough counselling session yesterday. Rough in the sense that there were more questions than answers, more work to be done. Maybe that’s not so different to usual but it’s the first time in a very long  while (maybe since I first started seeing her) that my next appointment is in two weeks and not a month. And worse, it’s possible what I’m having is an existential crisis – what is the point of life? Etc. And I’m guessing that’s not a quick fix.

I have no idea why this post is so hard to write. I’ve been working on it all week. Balance is a weird thing. Or maybe it’s not weird at all. Maybe it’s a completely fictional concept. Something to strive for but to be okay about never actually getting. That’s what Elizabeth Gilbert thinks – that it’s just another bullshit way to make women feel bad about themselves – and I kinda think she’s onto something with that. That’d be because I’ve been feeling bad about myself lately. I spent all last week down, and pretty frustrated, at me, at things, at the lack of time in a week. People say “but hey you had a BABY last year” and that’s true, I did. And they say “don’t worry [about your laundry, the state of your house, what you eat, what you look like etc etc]” but they don’t really mean that, do they? They still judge you, your house, why you haven’t done whatever it is they think is the thing you should have already done by now.

I’ve been frustrated. Frustrated that I don’t have enough time and that I won’t ave enough time in the year to come to get everything I want to get done done. Sure the obvious response to that is “move your deadlines” but the problem is that I don’t want to. I also don’t want to deprioritise anything. Frustrated that my brain feels like it doesn’t work the way it used to.

I work after the baby goes to sleep for the night. If she goes down at 6pm, I can get maybe 6 hours straight of working done. I have Skype meetings with coeditors in this time. I do my work and my research. And really, 6 hours is a pretty good chunk of time. Sure I might be trying to squeeze some me time in then too but what am I? Greedy? The problem is that I still have a pretty severe case of baby brain. I still have gaps in my vocabulary and my brain still doesn’t work as sharply. It *feels* like it doesn’t work as fast, but maybe that’s just that I have less actual time in the day and I’m still expecting the same output (or the same output plus 20%). But last week. Oh last week. Everything I touched after 9.30pm, I broke. And I mean really broke. I ended up screwing a book up so badly it had to be remade 3 times. I had tided my craft cupboard into one worthy of a pic on any self-respecting Pinterest board and in one rash decision to resize the shelving spaces, the entire contents ended up in a Hoarders Buried Alive mountain on the floor in front of it due to a horrible miscalculation of structural integrity. There might have been tears.

Meh. Things got dire. I’m pretty down on my myself, on everything I’m trying to get done, on all the things on my to do list that even a year won’t be enough time to do. On all the things I’m not getting done. On the state of my house, my studies, my press, my unfinished craft. You name it, I suck at it. And how. My lovely husband booked me a night away in a hotel. I suspect I was getting a tad stressful to be around. It was a nice moment to try and short circuit my downwards spiral.

I’m not in a great headspace. And I can see where this all leads and I can tell you that I ain’t sliding back into the abyss. I’ve got me a pretty overstuffed bag of tricks here to fight back with. The abyss might be waving at me but I’m flipping it the bird. Last week I skipped all social activities and that was bullshit. This week I’ve done better at that and gone to mothers’ group and hung out with people who get a lot of this.

On Monday, I woke up and decided to start running again. It’s so weird how you can just not feel like doing something like running for two years and then suddenly change your mind. I’ve been trying to do (any) one of the 12WBT workouts for weeks now and just can’t find myself enthused. Michelle Bridges even has a learn to run program but I’ve never had much success following it. I decided to return to the Couch to 5k program because I’ve done it before and kinda loved it. Plus I already had the app on my phone. And OMG it felt great. I live about 1km from the ocean so I had this delicious breeze which just smelt and tasted revitalising. My tunes (I went for the Pitch Perfect soundtrack) reminded me how much I love music. And as I threw myself into that first run, which wasn’t too bad at all, I remembered that this is exactly the way to fend off frustration and depression.

I’ve made some progress this week. I finally managed to get my grand garden project off the ground. I’ve taken my before photos and today the first delivery of soil improver has been dumped on my front lawn ready for next week. Step 1 will happen and from there, step 2, hopefully, to get some lawn in. I’ve nearly finished organising my craft cupboard and started work on my 2015 to do list (as in how to tackle some of it). I started running. I’ve cut down on the coffee I’ve been drinking and increased drinking water. I sent a book to Print. I’ve worked on ebooks and other books in progress. I had a great meeting with my Phd Supe. I’ve taken some podcast workshops and set other things up. Progress has happened. I’m still not in a great headspace but I can see a way forward, at least. I’m not going down without a fight.

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October 27   Maybe

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Maybe I’m just incapable of finishing things?


In knitting, it’s called Startititis – the urge/disease/need to start new projects, usually before finishing ones in progress and usually more than one or three or five at a go. It’s no breaking news story to say I love starting new projects. I love the thrill of thinking of something new – the “can we?”, “would it be possible to…”, “what if?” I love pitching ideas to people, bringing them on board. I love the possibility and potential that new projects bring. I love the idea that I could be the person on the other side of starting a new habit or routine, the person who just is or does [whatever]. But I’m not so good at follow through. I’m not so awesome at taking things through to the finishing line. My most classic example might be my first postgrad attempt where I built the mathematical model, I played with it for 2 or 3 years, even published a paper in a pretty good academic journal, then I saw the problem I was solving through to the end *in my head* and I was good. I knew how the story ended. And I lost interest. Anyone will tell you the thing about a PhD, the thing the actual piece of paper says, is that you can complete something.

In my life, I’m surrounded by half started projects. Let’s see. I’m sitting at my coffee table. Let me tell you what I can see by looking around and without getting up or moving in any way –> to my left there is a started quilting project (the top was finished more than two years ago but never made it’s way to being quilted) and a block of my Solstice quilt with half a border. Panning right is a bookcase that is only partially sorted and some wedding gifts yet to be homed. In front of me are about 6 TV series I’ve started but not continued (yet). And on the table are pieces 4 different craft (quilting and knitting) projects, the rest of the TPP financial bank statements etc from 2014 that are yet to be formally processed (balanced against records, entered into financial software packages and spreadsheets and royalties statements), a book I finished reading and want to write a Goodreads review for and a whole pile of To Do Lists in various states of untidiness. On the printer is a shopping list for a cake I want to bake for Mothers’ Group on Weds. And to my right are receipts that were partially sorted a few days ago.

And I’m not even sitting at my study desk.

But I’m always striving to hope towards being better. You know how it is. As I mentioned previously, a couple of weeks ago we signed up for a program to help us organise our house in a structured way. We aren’t moving at the pace of the program but we’ve made enough progress that I’m starting to get inspired and hopeful we might be turning a corner. The other Alisa lives in a Vogue magazine spread. In whites and eggshell blues. I can see though that when you start to *feel* like you’re gaining control, that helps you gain momentum. It’s quite interesting how important it is how you feel rather than how it is for this stuff. In the GTD school of thought, just sitting down and corralling your to dos makes you feel accomplished. You don’t even have to do any of the items, you just feel back in control simply by emptying your head and itemising them in some way.

So with this thinking in mind, I decided last week to try that piece of advice (was it Mark Twain?) – eat the frog first. Find the thing you least want to do, that you are most avoiding or will be the hardest, and do that first in the morning. Normally, and in Michelle Bridge’s 12WBT, that’s supposed to be exercise. Get it out of the way up front etc. And look, I’m not that person so I’m not even going to pretend to myself that that’s what it will be. But last week, every day, I tried to start the morning, especially over my first cup of coffee, to do something I had been seriously avoiding. And wow! That was an interesting exercise. Not every task when completed made me feel awesome. Some things you avoid because you know you have to tell someone something they don’t want to hear. But getting it over and done with was good. And it wasn’t quite as confronting an exercise as I thought it would be. I actually got a lot of things done. And progressed things that had long been shelved. And it did open up a bit of a floodway in that last week was the first week in a very long time that I actually had really long moments (hours) of feeling “in the flow”. I’d forgotten how great that felt! So productive! And exciting!

It had the additional result of having me think about *why* I was avoiding particular things. One of the things I’ve noticed about how my email inbox can build up is that I don’t like making decisions. Not that I’m indecisive or incapable of making decisions but the act of sitting down and actually thinking something through to a decision feels like hard work. “Oh that requires *thinking*. No time for that now!” But actually the thought process ends up taking less than 5 minutes when you finally sit down and do it. Sure, it might mean you have to admit there are 5 or 25 actions that are required but … you know, otherwise, you don’t really want to do whatever it is you are looking at. And usually, once you itemise the actions required, you find yourself doing them without even noticing. Like, “Oh well I need to email … may as well just do that now …” etc. Or the admitting you have to tell someone no or that you can’t do something. That for me is usually the hard bit. Once I’ve done that, I can actually write the email or make the call. It’s the admission that is hard.

So I’ve found that for me a lot of the procrastination is in the required thinking through of something and making a decision on how to act. Once I’ve done that … whee … I’m in flow.

Building onto that is what I’ve been focussing on over the last few days. Is it true that I just can’t finish things and if so, why? I’ve noticed that I can’t finish a novel, for example. That I haven’t finished a book in over two years. Even books I’m enjoying. And a friend of mine mentioned to me one day last week that a mutual friend of ours is now reading 3 books a week just by not doing anything else. And I thought, wow, when did I last finish a book and is it because I “distract” myself with things like TV and craft etc? Have I given myself a short attention span by not staying long attention fit? And … is this the issue I’m having with my reading for my PhD? And … what about all these other things I start but don’t finish? What do I lack? Is it attention? Is it staying power? Commitment? Who am I? And where is my mummy?

The only thing to do was to challenge myself to finish a novel. To just keep bringing myself back to that task. And I did it! (See finished book above!) I finished a book. Wow. 1 frigging book. I proved to myself that I can in fact do it. Good. Though this isn’t enough. But I think shows that I’ve shortened my attention span in the way I interact with things in my world. Yes yes I mean Facebook and Twitter. And only half reading pretty much any article I click on. So I’ve challenged myself to finish a whole bunch of started projects in my house. For the rest of the year. And then I’m going to post a list as my end of year summary – what did I actually finish this year.

And as with all things, it’s not so hard. It does involve thinking through why I’m not finishing something and figuring out what the next action is and sometimes holding my hand though the decision. Here’s the quilt top that was finished over two years ago but not ever actually progressed further. It turns out, I just needed to admit that backing material I’d bought was in fact backing material and the world would go on if I cut it up. And then I just needed to measure and cut. And layer batting in between. And then pin it all up. And get out the quilting hoop. And then … begin quilting.

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Time taken to get to this point? Over two years.

Time taken to do all the above? Less than 15 minutes.

The trick it seems is to ask yourself “What is next?” and when you brain says “I can’t do X because I still need to do Y”, to then ask yourself, “Well, what do I have to do to get Y?” It’s usually not as hard as your brain likes to pretend.

Here are last week’s finished Farmer’s Wife Sampler Quilt blocks. The bow tie ended up too small and I’ve fixed this by just creating a new (third) border size to frame it (and several others that are also undersized) to bring it up to the same size. It’s not perfect but it will do.

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One of my favourite events in the week these days is going to Mother’s Group. People close to me will recall how stressed out I got about whether I would actually be assigned one (M was born in November and they didn’t form new groups then til February) and also if I would fit in (I never really felt at home where I live and wasn’t sure I would meet people who would get me). As it turns out, those Child Health Nurses have some whacky superpower whereby they match people up in some way that most people cling tight to their group like it’s their oxygen machine. And as it turns out, I love my mother’s group more than I’ve loved many many things in life (not more than Tim Tams though, Tim Tams are for life). Anyway, we hang out, often for more than several hours on mummy’s group day, and laugh and debrief and all those things, and take photos of the bubs playing. Yesterday, I caught sight of myself (checking Twitter on my phone) in the background of one posted on our FB page. And … it made me sad.

I’ve signed up for the last two rounds of Michelle Bridges’ 12WBT programme to lose my “baby weight” – truthfully I lost weight during my pregnancy as I felt sick for pretty much all of the time. But that weight has not stayed off since. My plan was to – meh – it was probably to be someone else entirely in those photos for the Hugo nominees. This plan of course has not been successful and Loncon is next month.

This plan, by the way, has not been successful because it was completely unrealistic – not the programme, which is fantastic and has been really life changing for me. And not necessarily unrealistic that a new mum could follow it. Just. Not this new mum. In my feedback for the last round I did note that you know, the one mother of a newborn who manages to lose a bunch of weight whilst learning this parenting gig on the job and not sleeping is truly amazing and deserving of much kudos but for the rest of us, who basically feel like zombies dragging themselves through mudflats in a thunderstorm whilst wearing heels and having been slammed up the side of our heads, and already feel like losers and failures, don’t feel encouraged by the “I/She did it so can you too” bullshit.

You see, I’m having to admit that even Wonder Woman couldn’t juggle fighting crime, flying an invisible plane and wearing pants all at the same time.

Yes, that’s right. I’m currently exploring this question: “What is reasonable?”

SMART goals ask you to set measurable, achievable, timely goals that are *reasonable* and in my head I always think that the first three therefore imply the fourth. Yeah, no.

I feel like a total failure because I don’t feel like, don’t have time for and can’t make myself exercise. Oh yeah, and I’m still suffering from carpal tunnel from my pregnancy so some days I hurt so much that I can’t walk on my feet and hold a cup of coffee. (And when you’re the stay at home parent, noone can hear you scream from RSI from baby lifting and noone cares either).

Could I carve out time in my day, maybe when the baby is sleeping or after she goes down for the night? I’m supposed to answer yes to this – sure I can! But I’m supposed to be studying full time right now and running Twelfth Planet Press (which now is perpetually behind and slammed). I don’t really get that much time to do any work uninterrupted during the day so I work a full day from about 6/8pm (the baby currently woke up from her late afternoon nap that she never normally takes and is drinking a bottle – it’s 7.21pm) til 2.30am. Sometimes I work a bit later, sometimes I go to bed at 1/1.30am and read (reading is not always for leisure though it’s for staying in touch with the genre or reading submissions and manuscripts).

What is actually reasonable?

I’m working pretty hard to keep my business running and towards a career change so that when I come out the other side of this full time parenting gig, I’m not tossed aside for being out of date and therefore unemployable. And, you know, so that I don’t lose all that money I’ve invested into my small business because it stagnated and therefore lost its profile, interest and brand. I don’t want people to say “hey, remember that small press thirteen? ten? some number something? Whatever happened to that?” When I have “down time” I go to the toilet, get a hot cup of coffee (OMG remember those?! You’re sipping one right now, aren’t you?) and then I go and do work.

Oh and I am bone tired *all* the time. If I stand still, I can pretty much fall asleep. Any time.

So what *is* reasonable? What *can* you actually expect of yourself. Or more importantly for me, what can *I* really expect of myself? And what can I put on the to do list for later? What can I be ok with just letting be? What’s truly important?

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The thing I love, and need to keep revisiting, with GTD is that if you’re on a flow, you stay with the flow and you don’t need GTD. GTD is there for when you fall off the horse, when you’re stuck or blocked and when you’re procrastinating. I’ve been in a slow panic for a couple of weeks with regards to, well, everything. Time management, household chores, running the press, getting my PhD up and going, a bunch of big commitments I signed up for this year. You name it, I think it’s currently out of control. And when completely overwhelmed, I tend to ignore and hide. And, you know, generally make it worse.

I’m still fascinated by how you can be in a rut for days and days and weeks (and months sometimes) and then one day you just wake up and feel differently. Suddenly tackling the big scary pile of whatever it is you’ve been avoiding feels like the only thing you want to do that day. Or getting stuck into solving some problem that seemed insurmountable every other time you vaguely thought about it feels easy. I need to remember, to remind myself, that it’s all ebbs and flows, ups and downs, and that just because I feel a particular way about something doesn’t mean I will always feel that way about it. Just because something seems hard now, doesn’t mean it won’t be easier later.

This year I’m working on putting out into the world what I want to see in the world. No matter what the world throws back. And I’m also working on stepping back from emotion. Not ignoring or denying how I feel about things but stepping back to observe them. I came upon the realisation that the meditation I’ve done in yoga of observing thoughts and feelings as leaves floating past you is the same as the idea of the seated self, that part of you that is immovable and apart from fleeting thoughts and feelings. And when you become in tune with that part of yourself, you can (sometimes) step back when you feel something, and let it pass by you. Not so that you don’t feel anger/hurt/jealousy/pettiness etc but rather that you name it and let it pass you by and then you react.

And what does that have to do with GTD? I forgot that Next Actions don’t have to be the Final Action. That you can work on things and take them to temporary done and come back later to finish them. And that sometimes that’s more progress than waiting to do it perfectly the first time. I had a dire situation in my kitchen that required a massive task of pulling everything out, culling, sorting and cleaning before organising to a better system. Not fixing it was stressing me out. Fixing it was stressing me out. We spent a whole weekend on it, two weekends ago now, and it mostly got done. But you know, not everything fit back in the cupboards. Funny that. But I really want everything to be neat and organised. It makes me happier to actually be in my kitchen and do things. And so I’ve been slowly trying to rejig it all. But I still have a bunch of things that don’t fit. And of course, I can’t move on to the next task until I deal with this one. But it finally occurred to me that since it’s all clean and whatnot, I could out everything back and then reorganise smaller parts that don’t work as they are not yet in the perfect configuration now. That whole, it can be perfect or finished but not both.

I’m slowly trying to climb back on the horse of practicing GTD – I’ve not done a weekly review fora few weeks, I’m struggling to get my email inbox back to zero and my intray empty and I don’t know what many many Next Actions are. But I’m slowly trying to climb back on and that’s more progress than sitting here pretending I don’t even see the horse.


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It’s funny how synchronicity works. How you only suddenly notice that different aspects of your life keep throwing up the same lesson to you and that you know, you could acknowledge it now or acknowledge it later but either way, it seems to be the lesson you’re learning right now.

For me, this year, I feel like “organise” is it. When a baby comes along, I think you start to drown without organisation. In the beginning I was all winging it and stuff but the only real way I’m finding I’m able to feel less overwhelmed and get some air is to be organised. The only way I can get out the door remotely close to the planned time in the morning is if I’ve packed the baby bag the night before. And it only takes a couple of times of having to soothe a screaming-the-house-down upset baby whilst the bottles are in the steriliser and then in the freezer to cool down enough before you clue up to the fact that you should be ahead of the game. Now, no matter what happens, I’m making up at least 12 hours worth of bottles before I go to bed. I’ve even leapt out of bed at close to 1am when I realised I didn’t have enough bottles as back up and stayed up boiling kettles and prepping. Because, then, no matter how much hits the wall in the day ahead of you, at least you have bottles. And there have been a day or two when we’ve gone through what I thought would be 12 hours worth of bottles before lunch. I didn’t realise what people meant when they said you need to organise with a baby. I didn’t really get that it meant you have to organise everything else around the baby, not the actual baby herself.

I started the February round of the 12WBT today. And one of the things Michelle really drums into your head is the need to be organised to get this done. The very first round we did (ooh was that 2012 now??) we were organised and it really worked out. And then I found in subsequent rounds, if I hadn’t really worked out how things would go at the beginning of the week, well, it didn’t really happen. Because when all hell breaks loose, you drop the things you haven’t really thought through properly. Thinking just complicates things when you’re in put out the fire mode. This time, I actually sat down and planned out this week  – when we might need to cook things days ahead, when exactly (as in what timeslot) I would do which workouts (she gives you what you will do for the day ahead of time) and I thought through properly what I actually need to do, with mini milestones, towards reaching my goals. I’d like to be running 5km by the end of this gig. That means I need to be running say 2.5 km by the end of 6 weeks etc. We get the shopping lists on a Thursday so you have all the ingredients you need at the beginning of the week. And that really makes such a difference. Today, I was rushing with lots of things on and a very unsettled baby. It would have been easy to eat something less than optimum if I didn’t already have most of it preassembled (thanks to C) in the fridge. Grabbing the healthy option then became as fast as any other.

David Allen really emphasises the need to be organised in GTD, obviously. And one of the elements of the weekly review – the look ahead at the week to come – is becoming more and more glaringly obvious how important that is. Michelle Bridges calls it red flag days, where you know you will have issues either with following your nutrition plan (say you have a lunch or dinner out or your day is filled with appointments that makes getting your exercise in difficult). Allen talks about how you put something near the front door so you don’t forget to leave the house with it as an example of looking for things before they show up and blow up. I’m not always good at getting to this part of the weekly review but damn it’s annoying when I haven’t and hugely gratifying when I have, and have put in place the things I need to have done so things don’t blow up. The other day, we calmly walked out of the house at 8.30, within 5 minutes of deciding to leave because I’d done all the preparation the night before. Because I knew that would be hard for me to do so I did all the hard work ahead of time. Allen calls it the “ick factor” when you do things not because they are good for you – like brushing your teeth – but because you can’t stand the ick. After it not bothering me for ever so long, I now can’t stand leaving the kitchen with mess. I don’t like going to bed without clean benches. It just icks me now, in a way it didn’t before. I wonder what other new habits I might pick up inadvertently due to ick.

I in no way have this “organised” thing sorted. But I’m hyperaware of how it is arising across aspects of my life and how much of a difference it makes when I am organised vs when I am not. I think somehow by the end of this year, I might see myself as a much more organised person than I do now. The thing I don’t yet understand though is how you don’t require more time somewhere in the equation to be able to both do the things you need to do today as well as spend time today preparing things ahead of time for tomorrow. Or, put another way, what was I doing with this time before? It upsets me to think that I might have been doing nothing with it. Or worse, that it might be a bit like how if you put all your things away as soon as you finish using them, you never have to put time aside in the future to tidy up. And you don’t really notice the time you took to say put your shoes back in their spot. I think most likely it all takes the same amount of finite (your whole life allotment) time but one version allows you to live it a lot more stressfree. I think I’m just in the adjustment phase towards that constant state of being. I hope.

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I skipped a few posts on how I’m going with GTD. I managed to get my knickers in a knot after that first post. Even though I *wrote* about how it was ok to not be perfect and that it was better to get moving in the direction of getting things done than not, I freaked out because my system was not complete before getting it up and running. I’m still working on knowing things at the emotional level as well as at the intellectual one :)

After a couple of days of realising that I needed a brand new system and freaking out about that because it meant overhauling my then current, and failed, one, I finally had a chat with C about it. Because C already worked out the lifehack to me a long time ago, he pulled out his phone where he’d downloaded the mobile app version of OmniFocus ages ago when Andrew Macrae suggested it to me. We had a play around with it as I explained what I need a system to do for me.  My main problem was trying to get a mindmap brainstorm of each of my large projects (TPP, PhD, Craft etc) into a list management system and also be able to have this system manage both my active Next Actions and also other actions that are sequential and therefore not the Next Action. OmniFocus works perfectly for this. And after having been frustrated for weeks with finding a tool to move to, I decided to finally buy OmniFocus. It’s not cheap at $90 for the Mac and I didn’t want to buy something if I didn’t trust that I would actually use it properly going forward.

It’s been a combination of demoralising to have to start the collection process all over again and also a bit exciting to be setting up my OmniFocus lists whilst doing so. I downloaded the hack to OmniFocus from the GTD website as it needs some configuration to work with GTD (The site says that hack is a public article so hopefully it can be read by non members). It took maybe an hour to st down and read that and get the hang of the software. And then it’s taken me two weeks to get it to where it is now.

David Allen reckons that when they do one on one coaching with people, it takes three full days to get their lives into the GTD system – three full days to mindsweep, collect all your stuff, process and organise into a system. I’ve never really had that kind of time available to me to dedicate to it and now with an infant, I certainly don’t get that many stretches of work time at the moment. I try to do a general mindsweep but my head doesn’t really tend to do a big mind dump like Allen describes in the book. I sit and do that and then I just move on and any subsequent thoughts I have from that point on, I record and throw into my in tray (or the OmniFocus inbox now). It works as a moving mind dump and enables me to at least limit the number of times I have the same thought going forward. Likewise, I’ve done a physical collection of stuff which was in my intray and I’ve noted the various other electronic places where there are collections that need processing. I’ve then just picked up one piece of “stuff” at a time and processed it into OmniFocus as time has permitted. Sometimes I get a couple of hours (I’m working til about 2am at the moment) and sometimes it’s just 1 or 2 pieces in between baby wrangling. Slowly I’ve built up my projects and subprojects and actions lists and I’ve mostly emptied my in tray and inbox and so on.

I found that I needed to also purchase the mobile app for my phone and then enable syncing between it and my laptop. Again, I’m not keen on spending so much money! But, I am often out and about and being able to enter a new thought or idea or to-do straight into the inbox for processing later makes sense in terms of limiting double handling, especially when pressed for time. The other reason I needed it on my phone is because the whole point of GTD is to be able to optimise those odd moments of time that come up in life to allow you to progress a project. You can’t do that if you find yourself unexpectedly in a shop, knowing you had things to get from it but no idea what they were.

I’ve also spent time not only getting my email inbox to zero (yay – finally glimpsed it last night before bed!) but in reconfiguring it. Peter Ball pointed out a pretty cool Gmail hack to me – Don’t Drown in Email –  which I spent 15 minutes getting up and running the other night. I wasn’t sure I’d like it since it brings your two email folders – Waiting and Action – to the front page, making multiple boxes show and you get your inbox empty on the left of the screen by processing and tagging them into boxes on the right (Action, Waiting, Delegated and so on) which means they never actually go away. But it turns out this is great because it’s not out of sight out of mind, which, um ahem, might have been the case previously. After I emptied my inbox, I started reviewing the other folders, starting with the 295 emails sitting in Waiting. Yes. I’d gone numb to them due to the mix of actions and inactions due to lack of reviewage. Anyway, I like this new system even though it too is a work in process.

So in all, I think that’s good progress to report. I feel like I will never get to the end of processing all my stuff. I still have a whole heap of places on my laptop to get stuff from. And I need to go through my physical files in my office. On the other hand, I have a lot less loose paper with lists and ideas on them than I did when I first set up GTD. But the big downside is that it’s taking so long to set up my system that I’ve not yet had a chance to get to the DO stage of getting things done. Which means I don’t yet fully trust my system – things go in, but do they come out?


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The irony of this post is I have spent all day procrastinating on finishing it because I’m not sure it’s going to say all that I want it to.

This year, I plan to work hard to get my work systems to “cruise control” as David Allen would say. I’ve been trying to claw my way back onto the GTD (Getting Things Done) wagon after falling off, and then getting overwhelmed, when the bub was born. I’m going to hold myself accountable to this goal by posting something weekly about how I’m doing.

When I was in grad school the first time round, I once noticed a little quote one of my friends had up on her computer:

It can be finished or it can be perfect but it can’t be both.

When I read it, I realised this was exactly my problem too. So often, I get paralysed by the knowledge that what I’m working on is not, and will not be, perfect. And I feel that if I can’t make it be perfect, there’s almost no point in doing it. Often I think I don’t even take that thought through that far. I just get stuck like a deer in headlights drowning in quicksand and I’ll do anything else but the task or project I need to finish. I can think of about 8 things just off the top of my head right now that I’m actively paralysed on that fall into this category. (I achieved a lot today including writing about 50 thank you cards, moving some boxes to the shed, sorting through a clothes drawer, filled some book orders, all because I had this post I wanted to finish.) And yet, I told someone just recently who was also suffering greatly from her perfectionism, that 80% is still an A grade. I can help other people draw lines under their work but I have great difficulty doing that with mine.

And it’s not just my work that I’m a perfectionist about, I worry that my systems and my lists are not perfect. That they don’t have all the tasks set out at the beginning and that I might be forgetting something. Or that they’re in the wrong order. My handwriting needs to be perfectly neat. My reference material, brainstorms, notes from meetings all get rewritten for filing. I worry that if I come back later and the notes are messy, I might miss an idea. Or I think that all my reference material should inform my systems right away because I might forget to come back and consult my material later on. I read to memorise, that’s the truth on why I read so slowly, as though I could never come back and reread something again later. I worry I will forget I read the material at all and won’t know to come back and reread it. I do a lot of things more than one time through, I reinvent the wheel often (I am diagnosed OCD so that’s not really a shocker).

But the great thing about life is, it’s within my control to short-circuit this stuff. And something I have learned in the last year is, as much as I prefer to go from point A to point C immediately, it is totally ok to take a pitstop at point B. A lot of the time I get pulled up because it’s impossible to finish a task in one go. I do things like start tidying the pantry but run out of time part way in and will leave everything as is, all over the kitchen if that’s what I was doing, because I’m going to come back later and finish it to make it look perfect. And yet, later could be in 3 weeks or 2 months time. I often look like I’m in a state of chaos. But it’s planned chaos, I promise! So one of the things I’ve been trying to do is learn to take tasks to a midpoint. Say, tidying up one shelf of the pantry at a time, and putting things back in a temporary place, waiting for when I get back later to tidy a different shelf which will have the new permanent place. Or you know, breaking large projects down into subprojects with tasks and being ok with just tackling one tiny task at a time. Something that couldn’t be more crucial to progress for me right now than ever before.

I’m really and truly not used to having whole days (of maybe 15 or 18 hours long) in which I might battle to be able to get time to go to the toilet or make a cup of coffee. Where achievements are far more intangible than items I can check off a to do list – like comforting an upset baby. It’s a struggle for me when ticking things off my to do lists are how I validate how I spent the day. It can now take me a week to get anything substantial done.

I don’t really have the answer yet for how I’m going to make this work and juggle all my things. But I’m having to really take on board what David Allen says about weekly reviews – that if you are unable to complete the whole review, just starting it and doing it partially will make you feel better and more on top of your life than not doing it at all. It makes sense but it’s odd and unsettling to feel very organised in some parts and completely in chaos or in the dark in others. But what I’m trying to practise is learning to take smaller steps. I don’t have time to overhaul my whole system, to conduct a complete review, and to work in the size of work chunks that I’m used to. If I keep chipping away at getting my system up to speed a little at a time, and if I break my tasks down to the smallest of next actions (call Bob, find paperwork, buy stamps, fill book orders) and if I work on keeping my GTD systems going forward from today, in the end, I *have* to inch forward towards cruise control. Right?


September 8   Finished project!

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PillowAn actual finished object!

Today I uncovered a thing – a thing where I discovered I had screwed something up. For long time readers, it’s no real surprise that I tend to procrastinate on things. I am excellent at distraction productivity to cover up said procrastination but I tend to avoid things that might be unpleasant. Course, that avoidance creates guilt. And the occasional panic sweats and sick feeling when you recall the guilt. But for the most part, avoidance.

The thing is though, avoidance (and guilt) is bullshit. Another one of those white background noise stresses weighing down your psyche. And as I embrace the GTD lifestyle in preparation for baby boot camp (8-9 weeks to go) I’m discovering that there is no room for avoidance in this way of living and in the end, the only way to feel truly free is to face the thing you are avoiding. So, whilst I continue this last gasp of avoidance on today’s discovery, let me write this post as a sermon to myself on avoiding avoidance.


I actually finished this during the recording of the last Galactic Suburbia episode but then had to get the cushion insert from Ikea before it counted as completed. It’s a cushion cover. And it’s a big deal because I bought this pattern kit possibly at the first Quilt and Craft Fair I attended something like 5 or 6 years or more ago. And procrastinated on it. Why? I have a fear of cutting beautiful fabric – what if  I screw it up? And also, the instructions looked hard. And I needed to translate them from sewing machine to hand sewing. And that all seemed too hard and too scary. So it sat there. In my stash pile. Moving house with me however many times. If you don’t actually sew the project, did you waste your money?

Anyway. I finally cut the material when I was doing some cutting of fabrics for a different project. Now that my work desk is always left as a clear space, it makes pulling out my cutting board to cut fabric whenever I feel like it much easier. And when I was trying to work out how to cut strips for my Jinny Beyer block of the month quilt (more on that later), I figured I may as well do the same for this one. And then I took the cut pieces with me to Conflux (and then on to Tassie) to sew. I didn’t actually get round to it but it was a major step forward out of avoidance.

Then it sat in the ziplock bag for a couple more months as the instructions for piecing still looked scary.

But as part of getting to cruise control on GTD, I audited my craft room, and every nook and cranny round the house and under the beds (I’m still sorting through random garbage bags from moves of just stuff shoved in) and created a Crafts Project list and a Next Craft Actions list. And this project of course was on the list. With Next Actions, all you have to do is answer the question “What’s next?” You don’t have to know the whole plan of a project of A -> B -> C -> D -> Finished. You just need to know A. And then when you’ve finished A you figure out What’s Next? etc. So in answering that, I only had to understand the very first step of the instructions and execute that. And so on. There was some winging it required. The fabric in the original kit was never straight cut or the right size to start with. But then, when I thought about it, I realised, finished is better than perfect so never started. And it’s a pillow. It’s not the Sistine Chapel. Who is going to come along and measure the finished product and check it’s what the instructions said anyhow?

I worked step by step. The final bit is the back where you end up with a pillow slip by laying two pieces, cut of different sizes, on top of each other and sewing round the four outer edges, ending up with an inside pouch to hold the pillow. That bit was a bit boring but the great thing is, I save that kind of no brain sewing (once you figure out the step) to during things like recording a podcast. I can pick it up and put it down without needing to track anything and I can’t go anywhere for an hour or two so it’s the only thing I can do in that time! And voila! I have a finished project that took me maybe 2 hours to sew by hand after 5 or 6 years of being scared of the project!

Now to protect it from the destructive forces of the puppy! And to remember when tackling other long procrastinated and avoided projects that the most important thing is figuring out what the next step is, not needing to have the entire thing planned before you start thereby never actually starting.

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It’s been another full on week. I’m really not sure what I was thinking earlier this year when I agreed to a bunch of stuff for Aug-Oct. Yesterday, I hit Week 29 which means next week I’ll be into my last 10 weeks. True to everyone’s word, it’s gone both ridiculously quickly and agonisingly slowly. And it’s really starting to panic me how much I still have to get done before the baby arrives.

At Week 28, they do the glucose tolerance test and a bunch of blood tests – mainly for iron levels. Because of my blood type, I also had to get a shot of AntiD. AntiD is pretty short in supply so you have to book that ahead of time to make sure they have it available. I did all of these last Monday. I’d been having dizziness and funny turns during my pregnancy so I was a bit worried I was going to fail the glucose tolerance test. In the end, the entire thing was uneventful. Apart from the grossness of the liquid sugar, slightly fizzy drink, and the morning sickness due to fasting, I was just tired – too tired to do the work I’d brought for the two hour sit. They gave me the AntiD about an hour in to the stint. And took bloods at the beginning. The day after I found out I was pretty anemic and have gone on some extra iron. So far, I think I’m starting to feel a bit more energetic since taking it. And I’m hoping it will bring that spurt of energy before the much promised slide into the final weeks.

I’ve been relying on GTD to help me get organised, ready and start to get on top of things. In the last post-Galactic Suburbia recording chat, we were discussing those who like to do things down to the wire and under pressure of deadline (me) and other people, who do things ahead of time (you know who you are people who wrote your Lit essays the week you got the assignment). I was saying that I think I like doing things so close to deadline because it forces me to be succinct, and allows me to hand it in without having to give the work more thought. That if I did it ahead of time, it would mean I could and therefore *should* think over what I’d done, maybe tweak it, rework it etc. That done wouldn’t feel like “done” if I completed it a week or two before it was due. Course, there have been the odd times in my life where I’ve rethought what I wanted to hand in *after* I’d handed it in, and doing the work ahead of time would have enabled me to improve my response. But I guess that hasn’t happened all that many times in life to justify a change in habit.

Anyway, directly after that conversation, I had a really busy week. I’d completed my Weekly Review on the Monday, which involves scoping out up coming deadlines and what you need to do to manage them etc. In that week, I had a couple of days of solid doctor appointments (I try and book up whole days for this stuff as I have the two hour commute, may as well not do that too many times if I don’t have to.) and then a couple of days of things like presentations etc (the Romance Writers conference, a MasterClass at Curtin etc). As I did my plan for the week and worked out what I wanted to prepare for each of my commitments, I soon realised that to get something done that was needed on Thursday, I needed to do it Tuesday and could only do it Monday afternoon or Tuesday due to other commitments. And similarly for the weekend commitments, could only do them Tuesday or Friday. But if I did them Tuesday, I could spend Friday on PhD research which would otherwise fall by the wayside for the week due to everything else.

Armed with this knowledge, that is how I managed the week. And then the clouds parted, angles sang and I experience a revelation! When you do things earlier than 5 minutes before deadline, it’s completely possible to forget about them and let them be “done”. And to in fact feel good about the fact that you are prepared for the next thing in your schedule and thus be working on the thing ahead of that. It was … dare I say it? Fantastically liberating! I didn’t have to rush around, didn’t need to flail and panic, as per my usual way of coping. I calmly went about my business. Got enough sleep. Had things packed and ready to go for each of my commitments. Had everything I needed on me for each commitment when I got there. And I calmly moved through life. That’s what happens, apparently, when you work this way. And I have to say, I really really like it. It’s a very effective way of managing pregnancy brain which renders me useless sometimes. And I suspect, it could be very useful for someone working on little sleep and holding a screaming baby. And on the Friday, instead of feeling bad and anxious about the presentations and public speaking I had to do on the Saturday, I actually worked on PhD stuff calm in the knowledge that I was as prepared as I could be for the next day’s gigs.

So now I’m quite addicted to the Weekly Review.


August 11   Design Wall of Awesome

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Design Wall Aug 11 2013I am really liking my design wall. My charm quilt is almost finished – all the hexagons have been pieced together and now I am sewing the final panels together. I almost think I might miss all those teeny tiny triangles, now that I’m done.

All the while I’ve been working on this quilt, I’ve been looking forward to pulling it down and using the design wall to get a good look at my WiPs. And today was finally the day. I’ve only just begun pulling out everything from my craft cupboard and all the other nooks and crannies I’ve been stashing projects in progress. It would appear that either my design wall is not big enough, or I might have too many projects. My husband and I disagree about which it is :)

As I was pinning up projects, I began to see the real benefit of a permanent design wall. I liked it for the charm quilt to be able to piece it and then rearrange and try out different layouts til I was happy with the overall look. The same will be for each of the quilts shown here but I also like it for being able to find all the bits and pieces of partially cut out and sewn blocks and keeping them in a place where they don’t get lost. It reinforced my long held desire to have my own studio. I really really want a proper workspace where you can keep things up and together and not spread all over the house.

I think one of the reasons why I am so bad at finishing projects is because I lose where I’m up to and it feels too difficult to sit back down and re-figure it out. That was partly why I was excited about bringing my craft into my GTD system. In theory, that shouldn’t happen anymore. And I can see that using a design wall for projects in progress will also help that. And I think both will help me keep my momentum and interest alive enough to focus on finishing projects before moving on. It will be interesting to see whether my overall WiP project count changes over time. I’m thinking of tracking that :)

Currently up on the design wall are 7 quilts. Though the cameo with log cabins (lower right hand corner) was actually going to be 1 of 3 and probably now just needs to be quilted and bound. I also found 1 additonal finished quilt top and another that I’m going to completely pull apart and redo cause I hate it. And I still haven’t finished auditing my craft room yet. (Let’s not even discuss the knitting WiPs!)

I think another reason why I am so bad at finishing projects is because I fear not having anything left to do. I fear final completion. When dissected, it’s really quite ridiculous. Firstly, actually using all your stash and doing all your queued projects gives you permission to buy or start new ones. And WiPs are a debt on future time. Claustrophobic if I think about it too hard. Secondly, my actual list of dream / intended projects is going to be, when I sit down and make it, based on my current stashing alone, already probably another decade’s worth of work. Thirdly, the problem with finishing quilt tops is the having to buy wadding and backing which is expensive and then having to quilt them. I do hate the additional expense that finish garners. And also, I have come to admit, that I don’t actually like quilting. Not by hand anyway. And right now, I don’t have a sewing machine so I don’t have the option to do it that way. I’ve decided to pay someone else to quilt my quilts. And that’s also going to be something I have to balance against the fact that we have a baby coming and I have become a full time student. But … otherwise, what exactly is it that I am doing here? I might have to save up to get them quilted slowly over time. But at least now I have a plan and a way forward, so that feels good.

Next up, after auditing just what exactly all my craft projects are is to make a next actions list. Stay tuned for more finish-it-up-itis around these parts.

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Charm Quilt ProgressI’m unlearning everything I thought I knew.

I guess somewhere along the line I joined the cult of David Allen’s GTD. And it involves rolling out management systems to increase your productivity across all of your life. The goal is to have a mind like water and in order to do that, you need to feel like you’re on top of all aspects of your life – all the projects you’re working on, the ones you want to be working on at some point in the future and be able to take a step back and see it all at a glance whilst also being able to view your life’s goals and dreams all in the one go.

It’s taken me a while to get all those systems into place but I can see how once they are, and reassessed regularly, how your mind gets calmer and you feel less stressed. Even though, you don’t have any less work to do or are any less busy. You just get to stop thinking thoughts over again, having to remember things or having to figure out what you have to do when or what your priorities are.

One of the techniques I’ve used in the past to remind myself of things I have to do or to get myself to do things is to leave them out in front of my face – piles of paperwork on my desk when I really prefer  clear desks, things out on countertops and tables, craft projects in progress out on chairs and by my bed and all over the place. My thinking was if I put them away, I’ll forget that I was working on them. Or because I prefer clear, clutter free space, I’ll work on or do whatever is in the way so as to get the reward of clear spaces. Thing is? Your mind desensitises itself to the clutter so you get numb to it. But only numb enough so that you don’t notice it at a glance but not so numb that it doesn’t create background white noise stress.

It never occurred to me that there could be another way of keeping track of what I wanted to get done. Or that living in organised, clear spaces would energise and motivate me. I thought that was the goal rather than the means to the end.

Allen says that everything should have a place and that everything should be in its place. And the process of working towards that requires an assessment of just what exactly each and every “everything” is and a decision about what should happen to it – does it need something done? What’s the next action required for it to be done? Do you need it? Is it to be filed? Trashed? Does it need to be found a place. And then you put the next action on your list of actions and you put it somewhere, maybe away, cause you already have a stake in the ground so you no longer need the item itself to trigger a reminder for you. You have a system now.

I always thought that order and organisation and systems ruined/prevented creativity. I’m not really sure why I thought that. Considering I actually really love to feel organised and I thrive better on routine, or rather am a person of habit (just usually bad habits). I suppose I thought that my natural tendency is to want to *create* order through *doing* and that if there was already order, I wouldn’t be motivated to *do*. It never occurred to me that order and feeling organised and on top of things would actually energise and motivate.

It turns out, it feels fantastic to be able to put things out of way and know they aren’t out of sight and won’t be forgotten. A huge relief. A massive weight gone. And I can’t describe how it feels to start to see my house begin to look how I always imagined a grown up person’s house to look.

And the bit about creativity? I don’t think my brain has been so clear and able to work, effectively and productively, in a very very long time. I find myself writing paragraphs for my PhD randomly and with ease. And I’ve been working solidly on the quilt in the picture here.

In May, I took apart the whole quilt top that I’d assembled on this project so far as well as well as all the rest of the hexagons I’d pieced (which was enough for the rest of the quilt top, except I hadn’t decided that yet). It took me nearly a week to unpick all the hand sewing which I’d done over the course of maybe two years. And then I picked a new pattern. The original pattern, you see, didn’t work out – I had wanted to work with more colour play – light, dark and mediums to create a sense of shadows and movement. Except, I’d pieced the hexagons with related materials rather than in true charm square style – randomly – and it just didn’t work. I decided to abandon the original plan and just go with something else.

I pieced all the new hexagons first because I knew that what I needed to do was lay them all out and work out how I wanted to piece them together for the quilt top, rather than do it ad hoc as I went along. As I normally would have done, eager to see “progress” as I worked. But I stuck with it and I really did piece all the hexagons first. And then I got my husband to help me rig up a design wall. My very first design wall. And I’m addicted to it now! The freedom it’s given me to be creative has been amazing. I threw all the hexagons up, in a rainbowish layout. And then I spent a few days rearranging them all til I got the quilt to look balanced. I’ve never done that before. I’ve never worked on the overview as well as the fine scale at the same time, knowing where I was going as I was going. I thought working like that, on craft, would reduce the feeling of creativity – the knowing how it was going to look by the end at the very beginning. I thought it would take all the fun out of it. But actually, it’s given me focus and direction because at each step, I’ve known what the next action was. There’s no need for procrastination because I don’t need to think or improvise what happens next. I don’t need to put it away for a year to think about how I’m going to make it work.

And before the end of August, I’m going to have finished this quilt top. I’ve never worked on a project this way before. I’ve never finished a project this quickly before. And I ended up with colour play in the end after all. Adding the white triangles to create a star around each hexagon has added a sense of movement. The rainbow (a layout I have formally always detested as I felt it was pedestrian) actually gives the unmatched pieces a sense of uniformity and pattern. And the dark and light layout for each hexagon actually gives some shadow affects too.

The process has been really enlightening. Both for how I will approach crafting going forwards but also for much bigger life projects.

And normally, I panic when I am so focussed on one craft because I feel like it means I’m never going to be obsessed with the other one again. My old knitting versus quilting war. And I have a lot of knitting WIP projects there to be done. And also a lot of quilting ones. But now I have a “Craft Projects I Want to Make” list. Which I am still building. And now I have a management system that I am looking forward to trying out, once I’ve finished the Charm Quilt, to see if it will ease my distress over choosing my craft obsession :) We shall see! I suspect there will be some serious finishitupitis going on around these parts in the next few months.

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I completely underestimated this whole zero inbox thing. I was promised great things but I admit I was a bit skeptical. I’d been slowly chipping away at my inbox for months. You know you have a number of emails pending that you get comfortable with, that you feel like you are in reasonable control of it all. It used to be 100 for me. And then I managed to get it down to 50. Lately it’s been between 20 and 40. But this last week, I’d been hovering at around 8. I was listening to one of the David Allen CDs yesterday and he said something about coaching an exec who had got theirs down to 5 and was getting ready to leave for the day. David encouraged him to go all the way to “see what it would feel like”. And as I stared at my final 5 emails late yesterday, I thought, “hey, let’s just see what it feels like.”

And what did it feel like? I’d been feeling bad all day that I hadn’t really done “enough” work for the day. I’d been doing small tasks and more backlog type things. And then at about 6pm, after I reached zero inbox, I suddenly found myself at my desk, typing solidly for a full hour, working on my PhD Candidacy application (it’s the first step you need to do as a phd student and basically outlines in 10 pages your thesis), I wrote 2700 words into what had previously been a blank, named document. I outlined the basic methodology and objectives, some of the background, some issues that I think need investigating to nail other bits down, even referred to material I’d been reading as part of my lit review. I wrote 7 pages. They aren’t great. But it’s a 10 page document. It’s too big a project for a PhD. Which is a great start – I have a lot of material to pare down. Lots of opened loops to go off and investigate to nail this down. I have a way forward. In one hour. I haven’t felt so clear headed in a very long time. Didn’t even know I could still think that clearly.

It was amazing.

That’s the promise of this whole management system – that by setting it up and maintaining it properly, you free your head from the day to day minutia, from thinking the same thoughts more than once, from being stressed about things you need to remember or need to do and you can move on to being creative. This was the first glimpse of this for me. And I’m addicted!

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