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You're always making me late!

June 26, 2011

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Ahhh and oldie but goodie. The classic problem of multiples. I wanted to share with you some of my methods for keeping track of time so I am a little less likely to lose it.

Keep in mind that if normal people had perfect sense of time, and were always able and willing to remember and keep their appointments, there would be no watches, calendars or clocks. Time-management is a huge topic all over the web. Tools to cut off distractions and increase focus are plentiful. Also, tools to manage projects, to-do lists, etc. are also plentiful. More about that in a moment.

I use quarter-hour chimes on my laptop (Mac dashboard application called "ProdMe"), I find it's very helpful while I'm writing. I set up a little electronic "Gong" that reminds me that I'm working. Sometimes if I'm writing a post about the 2 littles that are still traumatized, they'll slip me the sleepy pill. Suddenly the world is going away and I'm taking a nap at my laptop. Disconcerting. It will happen mid-sentence! It's the "You're poking where you shouldn't be" warning. The gong helps bring me back a little so I can climb back to full consciousness, apologize to them, and consider backing off a little bit. It's happened during the writing of a few posts in this series, but it really doesn't happen often because I don't write that close to their trauma much. There we go again -- just yawning and I woke up recently. Predictable, but problematic and really trounces my productivity, but it ONLY happens when I'm talking about them (Tina & Shane).

Keeping my appointments on a calendar is not good enough. Firstly, a written calendar doesn't work for us. We use an electronic calendar on our computer and sync it to our laptop and google calendar (we use BusyCal for a bunch of reasons). We run a business, so it's important to put in both our recurring appointments and any new commitments that come up. I can't trust that I'll remember, I probably won't.

Whenever we have a real appointment or solid due date for something (filing papers for sales tax or something like that) we'll put alarm reminders, sometimes as much as 2 days or more in advance if there's prep (mental or physical) involved.

A simple "beep" alarm isn't good enough -- much too easy to dismiss it as "just a beep" from the computer -- so I've programmed in some synthesized vocal reminders. It amuses us to have the electronic voices as our "Servants" so my most-used one says "Madam, please check your appointment book." The verbal reminders are much harder to ignore by accident. They also pop-up on my screen, so I have to click to dismiss them or I can snooze them. The only problem is if I'm away from my computer for long periods of time and have the computer muted (rare) or the headphones plugged in (oops!).

If you're a geek (or play one on TV) and want these verbal reminders, play around with the beta test of AT&T's Natural Voices and you'll have to figure out what type of audio files your calendar application can use, and how to install the sounds as "system sounds" on your computer. You'll want to consider some specific and some general events to have voices for, and what the context is for them. I have a weekday alarm that says "Madam, it's time to bring Grub to the schoolbus." in a rich deep baritone voice easily heard throughout the house. I recently made one in a softer woman's voice that fit him coming home in the afternoons a little better, now that he lets himself in: "Madam, Grub will be home momentarily."

I like the idea of project management and task management (i.e. to-do lists or as I prefer to call them "Want to Do lists"), but I haven't found the "perfect" tool yet. David Allan's Getting Things Done (GTD) system is one of the best ideas out there, not sure about in practice but millions use it. I love the application I worked on at but you need to be able to install a website on a web server OR know how to set up web services on your computer to run it (on a mac you can use MAMP -- might be able to install MAMP in Dropbox so multiple computers can use the same installation, but that won't help on iPods/iPhones, and computers outside your own).

Beyond that, I don't have a really good, slick, easy answer on task management. I write about this topic extensively in SURRENDER™ to Passion. I think one of the keys is to make sure that we're always attached to why we want to do something rather than writing it in terms of drudgery. If we write "Vacuum to defend our family from dust mites!" we're attached to WHY much more than "vacuum the rugs." The latter just makes it feel like you're Cinderella, and it's drudgery. "Vacuum the rugs" is a to-do task that fits most of what you'll hear in the time-management world -- it's specific and actionable, it starts with a verb. But in terms of managing your motivations, it's sorely lacking. Why "vacuum the rugs" when you can spend some extra time researching something, answering posts on Facebook, or writing your latest poem or inspirational blog post? The longer version has the answer right in front of you: "I'm vacuuming the rug because the dust mites cause my family allergies!" Focusing on the why helps you feel more passionate about it. If your family is miserable with allergies it only gets worse if you don't vacuum!

Much of the time I still use paper for this at the risk of either losing it or it becoming a dreaded Pile of Papers. It's not a great solution. I've tried dozens of ideas on this one, no great solution for us. Part of it is me -- any time you have a list that is too long, it's daunting -- and we do this to ourselves. Part of the brilliance of GTD is a method for hiding the things you need to do but don't need to do TODAY. Finding an application that claims to be a GTD app but really does this and does this correctly is a challenge -- the gtd-php project I contributed to does have this feature, and does it correctly, with the mentioned limit that it's an open-source website application.

So most of this is pretty "generic" and not very specific to multiples. And so what? I think that part of "losing time" is that we're not keeping track of time very well. The other part of it is managed much better in another post, regarding giving time vs. stealing time.

Other Posts in June 2011

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