Thursday, January 15, 2015

Real Talk 3: Accountability

Part 3 in a series.  I've employed some practices, and have had some things on my mind, that I'm really excited about, and I'd like to share them here.  Not all directly food- nor LA-related, though food certainly weaves through these stories.  I'm calling it Real Talk, though in a less lofty moment, I could just as well have called it Better Living Through Google Docs.

Real Talk 1: Gratitude
Real Talk 2: Mindfulness

Guys, it's mid-January.  That greyish time when already, we start feeling the wearing of the newness. We use all the tools we have: denial, active resistance, sheer force of will, to try to get it back. Now, I come into 2015 with optimism. I have some lofty goals for the year (more on that later.  maybe.), and one actually reasonable one, involving friluftsliv (who's in?), but as much as I love that fresh, invincible resolve of the first days of January, resolutions themselves have always felt a little flimsy to me.

Fortunately, I have a secret weapon.  At the start of 2012, feeling a little boxed in by the strict declarativeness of resolutions, I figured out an alternative that works for me.  I'd like to talk to you today about a little something I call the Hour of Power.

My issues with the old way of dealing with resolutions stem not just from their lack of fluidity, but from the lack of accountability.  I am notorious for not finishing what I start, and it frustrates me endlessly.  I'm more interested in a way to keep tabs on things I want to achieve as they arise throughout the year, rather than coming up with a few simple resolutions in one day.

So, I've come up with a system with two simple components.  First, I decided to schedule a weekly meeting with myself.  I schedule in an distraction-free hour, every Wednesday from 8:30-9:30, which is devoted completely to the second item, The List.

The List. Ah, the list. The list is everything. The list, as they say, is life.*  The core of this practice is a list, contained in the cloud, accessible at all times, with everything in it. This includes grand plans and visions, as well as mundane to-dos. The key to the List is to update it the moment you remember something.  No need, at that time, to go into detail, but jot down the item.  I started my list in Google Docs, but last year moved it to a site called Workflowy,  which I love.  It's just a few seemingly simple tweaks away from a text file, but perfect ones.  I recommend it.

The Hour of Power. My meeting with myself.  These are the grounds. Each is crucial:

 - Use a different chair.  I do most of my computering on the couch.  A messy morass of Facebook, Sporcle, IM, all the distractions, every night.  The Hour is special, and requires a shift in environment. I spend it on an armchair that's slightly less comfortable.  Play music if you want; pour yourself a cup of hot tea.  Remove yourself from children and other distracting people, and shut the door**.
 - Open a new browser window.  It's impossible to plan life, for me anyway, without the internet.  But for the Hour, I minimize all the nagging tabs, log out of IM, and start clean.  This window will have just a few tabs: The List, my calendar, email, and maybe a couple others as necessary.  I'm mindful to not get sucked into a wormhole though.  Discipline.
 - Go through the list.  Address each item.  If something needs fleshing out, add subtasks.  Go into as crazily minute detail as you need.  If you're not sure where to start, come up with a baby step.  Consider talking to someone.  (And then of course, add talking to that someone to the list, and schedule it in.)
 - Get shit done.  If a task is to send an email, look up the hours for a business, find someone's mailing address, this is your time to do it.  Sometimes, in the time it would take to add an item to the list, you can just knock it out.
 - Schedule in first steps.  If a task can't be done immediately, schedule it. Need to make a phone call during business hours?  Put it in your calendar for 10am the next day.  Set an alarm.
 - Reward small victories.  Strike through things as you complete them. Bask for a moment.  Doesn't that feel great?
 - Reward large victories.  Maintain the list of complete tasks. With Workflowy, you can toggle hiding completed tasks.  With a regular doc, shift them to the bottom. But don't delete them. Look at them every once in a while.  You've accomplished so much.
 - Keep at it.  Keep. At. It.  And don't get discouraged.  Even the Great Wall of China is nothing but bricks.

I don't consider myself an organized person -- I was tagged a slacker early in life -- and it takes major effort for me to keep things from falling through the cracks on a regular basis.  But my little Hour of Power has been such an effective thing for me.  I can't say that I accomplished every single thing I set out to do when I started this practice, because honestly that'd be impossible.  But I have accomplished a lot (so many strikethroughs!), I'm pinned to a path, and with every hour, every item, I'm making progress.

* I recognize the white-girl-problems nature of using a line from a Holocaust movie to describe my self-organization method.  But after years of saying it to, and hearing it from, a friend for whom The List is the closest thing to religion, the phrase has had its original meaning hollowed out, and it's an important piece of our shorthand.
** Yeah, right, parents of small children are gonna be able to get an hour of uninterrupted time to themselves.  I know, super challenging. But I feel like parents are superheroes of efficiency and could actually knock this out in 30 minutes.

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