Fast Track

What do you do when you discover that something, a very large something that means a lot to you, that you thought was due in “about a year” will be completed essentially seven weeks from today?

I had a few comments on a twit I wrote this morning that “the sound you heard last night? That was my universe flipping inside out.”

Yup. Sometimes life throws you something that you didn’t expect.

Condensed yet semi-vague background: I am in a brand new Graduate Program (it’s part-time) at a University draped in Ivy. I have strong opinions about said program which I will leave out of this discussion as they are natural but not for this space. I entered in September of 2006 with my classmates as the first cohort. This semester we’re taking two courses, as we have each Fall and Spring: the last core course and a little course titled “Master’s Project”.

I have been known not to reread the program’s main website to learn more details of things and wait for the instructors to send us the syllabus. I’ve had many friends do various masters and PhD programs.. I didn’t think about this course very much and figured in it we would chat about the projects and methodologies of our proposals and then we’d have until we finished the program (we have four courses remaining after this term) to finish the Project.

I was terribly mistaken.

Last night my classmates and I were hit with the syllabus. The Project is due May 9th of this year. I have a pretty good idea what I’m doing and how I plan to go about doing it. The minimum requirements aren’t excruciating, especially since I expect to lift large chunks from my prior projects. It’s the time frame which is scaring the @#($*& out of me. That is good. Because I’m scared there is a huge fire lit under me and it means that I have no choice or time to procrastinate. We basically have to complete the first draft of the project and presentation by Spring Break. As in about seven weeks from yesterday.

So what does all of this mean?

1) I’m happy we began the kitchen when we did.
2) I’m happy I was sick last week.
3) I’m happy I didn’t yet commit to any more large projects and that I actually finished one over the break.
4) I’m sad I didn’t finish the Dragon Wrap.
5) I’m happy I dropped Tuesdays and Wednesday from my posting schedule. That will remain in effect until May. I may be better with twitter, I may not.

How do I plan to try to keep my sanity ?

1) Remember the Milk. I’m doing a combination of FlyLady and Getting things Done and whatever else some guru has found, but in a manner which works for me. I hope/think.
2) I have consolidated all but two email accounts into Gmail for checking for the foreseeable future.
3) I got rid of the crackberry. R has it now. This is good. I will make time for email, but not obsessively. [That was the plan for a while].
4) I bought a new spindle. Actually this may not have a been a good move, but it wasn’t expensive and I think it’s nice.
5) End Note. I’ve been using this for over seven years and love it. The Uni provides a license to current students. No, I will not share. BibTex rocks too.
6) Eating proper meals.** I need lots of help for this one. I need Gluten-free Kosher meals that I can carry without taking up lots of room (i.e. bulky containers) and without waste (i.e. lots of yucky ziplocks) and can survive hours without refrigeration and fill me up. Oh and are inexpensive.
7) Sleeping when I should.
8) Making time for me (and E) EACH DAY and SHABBOS.

What do I need to do?
0) Find a second power adapter for akepa so I can leave one in my campus locker and one here at home.
1) Stay away from random mindless web surfing.
2) Stick to my schedule but not obsess over scheduling to the point that it all I do.
3) Be prepared to tell others that NO I cannot assist them with a large project.
4) Keep my head and believe in myself that and I complete this and be proud with the final result.
5) Remember to backup backup backup my work.
6) Backup my work again. In various formats and outputs.

Next week I’ll have made a decision as to Scrivener. If anyone has any linux or web-based solutions (with off-line ability) of programs which do similar things to Scrivener — I’m all ears! I can find Windows alternatives but not *nix or web without building my own, which I don’t have time to do.

doing it all .. or not.

I’m still thinking lots about the comment made to me yesterday wondering how I get everything done and “have time to do all that I do”.

I wish I did get it all done..

While many things get done there are several factors currently at play which make me believe that little to nothing is really being completed.

First: my to-do list is growing exponentially. Part of it is my often having a difficult time saying no. Part of it is that several large projects are going into high gear at the same time. Part of it is that I’m being more diligent about recording things that I need to do.

Second: I do many different and diverse things each day. My day starts with an alarm at 5:30 and ends somewhere between 11pm and when I actually fall asleep. I spend about 40 minutes on the subway each direction four days a week. I spend micro amounts of time on probably all my projects and to-do list items each day. It’s this little bit of constant work which assists me in eventually completing the projects. As they all have different start times and duration lengths I appear to constantly have completed projects. My clients may feel that is true, but I often don’t (see item “First” above).

It is fascinating how my brain moves constantly between all the projects (paid, unpaid, fun, and not) I have on my plate. If I ever gave a running commentary output of what I’m thinking about at one time I’d probably get locked into a padded room (hey wait.. that might not be so bad will they let me take my fibre?). It’s this constant thought and processing and reprocessing and … mandatory downtime (known as Shabbat) … which I believe help me get things done and have time for fun as well as work. I also often find that while working on something that is NOT the project I solve the problems. How often have you started to drift off to sleep and realize that it’s a missing semi-colon which is causing all the difficulty? That’s why I read a lot and also knit, crochet, (and now!) spin.

So, yes, everything gets done. Eventually. Some projects are completed more quickly than others. I have quite a few perplexing work issues at the moment, nothing overly insanely blocking but long term planning long term annoyances and things of that sort so I expect a case of start-itis in an attempt to solve them.

So what is the purpose of this post? Well, I’m not about to share the details of my to-do list but I currently feel that I’m not getting ANYTHING done. I guess I should stop expecting to mark January as a breather and think that I’ll have the ability to get a chance to catch up and instead realize that it is a time to go into even higher gear.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’d change my life for anything else at the moment [except for to get rid of this cold] but I definitely wish I could catch up a little more… I’m sort of doing better at turning down things but lots of things I want to do are coming up as well.

Lastly: I’m thinking of restructuring the schedule in anticipation of the semester starting again next week. I’m not quite sure how this will work or if I’ll keep things as they are. Time will tell.

working from home, or not – part I

I work from home much of the time.

I also don’t work when I’m at home.

Today’s post is going to highlight a few of the major pitfalls I encounter to working a flexible at-home schedule.

First some background. I go to an office four times a week, Monday through Thursday, from 8am to noon.

Pitfall #1: Many of my officemates and my mother assume that when I leave that office I have no other work to do or what work I have isn’t “real”.
This grates on my nerves. I’m tired of explaining. Some get it, most don’t. They may work from home on occasion, but really don’t understand that I really have more than the one job they see me at. My mum really doesn’t get it and I have given up trying to make her understand. My doormen think I’m very lucky to work at home (and also think I rake in tons of money). If I could afford a lease on real office space I probably would. I want to move so I can make a proper office (and separate studio space).

Pitfall #2: Because of my flexible schedule, I’m the one to run random errands throughout the day.
The office is an hour from our home. It’s very easy to arrive home at 3pm and not around 1 if I run any errands on my way home. The most common errand I run is grocery shopping. This really wears me out, not only because I have to carry the groceries home (shopping on weekends would not solve this problem, I’ll try to write about that issue someday), but because of the people interactions I must deal with to get through the grocery shopping. My local big store is having their frequent “can can” sale and I swear it is as if no more food will be produced and sold by stores EVER and people would have to rely on hunting and gathering again. It was kind of funny actually and I may have enjoyed it more if I didn’t have to be there and deal with it. People had two shopping carts full of food and seemed to have forgotten how to shop and move their carts. I went in for milk, rice, and pizza “stuff” and feel lucky to have gotten out with my life.

Pitfall #3: Because of those errands I often end up home exhausted and famished.
Unless I eat lunch in the city I have to wait until I get home. Because of those errands that is often 2:30 or 3pm. It is not a good time to make and eat lunch. Add in all my dietary restrictions and I’m pretty cranky. I really need to fix this. I could bring my lunch but then I have to schlep containers around. It’s a balance I have yet to find. It’s one of my goals for this year.

Pitfall #4: My Thursdays are sort of like Fridays for most people and I’m wiped.. The stress of commuting and making sure I get the in-person office stuff done in a four day week really gets to me by Thursday. I’ve had an intense few weeks there and today wasn’t productive as expected because of my exhaustion. It let myself become swayed by other problems and didn’t finish what I wanted to.

Pitfall #5: Because I’m home there was an expectation that housework would be completed. Also as I am the family cook, (E can boil water and make rice), I have additional pressures of coming up with a meal and getting it on the table in a semi-reasonable manner. I can’t remember the last time we “ate out” on a week night. I think the closest to that we come is a night of canned soup or when I (gasp) brought home a rotisserie chicken. To that end, I try to make things that require minimal prep because I just am not into complex menus.

Pitfall #6: Internet.

Pitfall #7: Television.

Pitfall #8: Email.

Pitfall #9: Knitting/spinning… creative “fun” endeavours.

Regarding the above four pitfalls… these are all distractions. I can sort of categorize Email, Internet, and some knitting as “work”, but they often blossom into long meandering walks where I didn’t expect to go.

So, how do I combat these pitfalls? Stay tuned, next week I’ll step through them one by one.. I’ll hint tonight: writing it down, breaking it down, turning it off, turning it on, knowing when to stop.

Don’t worry, I’ll talk about the advantages soon too…

my project management

My hope for the next couple of “tool” posts is to write about the process and tools I use to manage my small projects and find focus and clarity in the chaos.

Most of my projects are incredibly small and I’m sure that many in the larger corporate world would scoff at formalizing much of the process in a traditional manner. My husband often “giggles” at those items I define as projects. For years I have struggled to find a methodology that works for what I’ll term ‘Very Small Projects with Little Budgets and Resources’. I’ve had difficulty finding what will let me know at a glance what I need to work on and what the status of the project is.

In the coming weeks I hope to write up the processes and tools I’ve found most helpful and also perhaps what isn’t and why. In the past three months I think I’ve finally solidified what works for me and what doesn’t.

A tentative list of topics include:
– Estimating time
– Calendars vs Task Lists
– Multi-Tasking vs Managing Multiple Projects
– Client-Vendor-Self Management & Negotiation
– Email & Web/RSS Management
– Billing
– Mobile worker
– Working from home (or not)

I’ve not yet forgotten about the list I wrote last week. I’ll probably fold some of those topics into the Tuesday posts as I have little idea what to write about on Tuesdays anymore.

Also: I seem not to be receiving email notification of comments at the moment. I’m looking into what is causing this and hope to resolve it shortly.
Update: I think I fixed it.