Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Time Management Tuesday: I Need Something Simple

Another library patron is waiting for The Deep by Cal Newport, so I'm going to wrap up my thoughts on the book.

Recall that Newport defines "deep work" as "Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate." He spends half his book arguing the value of deep work and the threats to it. Some interesting points:

  • Some people thrive without working in depth, but they tend to be high level CEO's whose jobs involve making decisions, not generating new work. Someone else in the organization does that for them.
  • The trend toward open and distracting office space and use of social media for business decrease workers' ability to do deep work.
The second half of the book involves ways to get into deep work. I found a lot of this aimed toward privileged workers who are in positions in which they can cut themselves off from others so they can work deeply in a monastic manner or can periodically devote a large chunk of time to deep work while eliminating other kinds. It's a bit of a fantasy for most writers who are often working jobs, writing/editing for hire, and/or dealing with families.

Newport talks about: 1. Attention fragmentation, when our attention is...fragmented and we're not able to concentrate, a concept I like. 2. Mastering hard things (like staying on task for deep work) requires deliberate practice. He says it's actually more important than natural talent. Deliberate practice I can get behind, too.

What that deliberate practice should be/can be I'm not clear about, though. The rest of the book is filled with disciplines and reasons, examples and tips. James Le does an excellent job of describing the book content in his blog post The 6 Productivity Strategies to Integrate Deep Work into Your Professional Life.

For myself over the last few weeks I've often had days filled with appointments and telephone calls when I could only write a few sentences. When I have that little time, I need to work on work, not on time management so I can work. Time management has to be something that doesn't require a lot of time and effort.

I'm still thinking about trying to develop some kind of slow work process. Since I've admitted that I sometimes only get a couple of sentences a day written, I know it could be argued that I'm well down that road.


Friday, July 27, 2018

August Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

I haven't heard anything that suggests fall will be any more active for childlit in Connecticut.

Sat., Aug. 4, Liz Delton, Mark & Sheri Dursin, South Windsor Farmers' Market, Sponsored by Bookclub Bookstore & More South Windsor 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM  

Thurs., Aug. 16, Lisa McGloin, Bookclub, Bookstore & More, South Windsor 11:00 AM Story Hour

Thurs., Aug. 9, David A. Kelly, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 2:00 PM

Thurs., Aug. 16, Chandra Prasad, Avon Free Public Library, Avon 4:30 PM to 5:30 PM

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Time Management Tuesday: Is The Internet Really Fragmenting Your Attention, Or Is It Something Else?

This week, we continue with our summer read, Deep Work by Cal Newport. 

Newport writes about "fragmented attention," which occurs when we are distracted, taking our attention away from work goals. Or, as he says, deep work, "Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate."  For writers, that would be writing. Newport describes a study that "found that an interruption, even if short, delays the total time required to complete a task by a significant fraction."

He makes very clear that he believes the Internet, and social media in particular, and e-mail are the big fragmenters of attention. He quotes another writer as saying, "Twitter is crack for media addicts." He calls one subsection of a chapter of his book "The Cult of the Internet." "Cult," like "crack," rarely has good connotations. Another entire chapter is called "Quit Social Media." I think that speaks for itself.

I like the expression "fragmented attention." I think it definitely describes a real situation, the way our attention is broken by what is going on around us. In my experience, though, Internet-related activities just are not that big a fragmenter.

What's Been Fragmenting My Attention For Over Ten Years

I have definitely been suffering from fragmented attention since the end of May. Here's what's been going on:

  • A family member, who isn't well under the best of circumstances, became ill with a life-threatening condition and then suffered a stroke. She rallied.
  • A sibling and I visited her skilled nursing facility daily, then slowly cut back to two to three times a week each.
  • For a month or so I was reporting several times a week by e-mail to siblings on my visits. Other days, I received reports from the sibling doing the visiting.
  • I e-mailed multiple cousins about their aunt's condition. (I really ought to send them an update.)
  • I was involved with a cousin visit.
  • Because of our family member's impaired state, one of her hearing aids ended up on the floor of her room and was destroyed. This meant contacts with her audiologist, and a trip to the audiologist's office to pick up a new hearing aid and have it synced with her other hearing aid, so I was at the snf twice that day.
  • During this time, a paperwork problem came up for my family member that was totally unrelated to her condition. This involved two calls to an attorney on my part. A call and stop on my husband's part. My sister then had to meet with another attorney, and the two of us ended up going into his office.
  • An out-of-state family member was in town twice this summer. 
  • Two other family members needed medical testing in June, and I was assisting with babysitting and rides for that. (Everything worked out, but it ended up being three consecutive days.)
  • I visited another elderly family member a few times because her primary caregiver was sick.
  • I caught whatever he had and was sick for two days.
  • I've been shopping for both elders.
  • I had to go to urgent care twice this past week for an unattractive skin infection that, thank goodness, isn't in a particularly obvious place. 
  • I had to drive a family member back to Vermont this weekend.
As I mentioned here last month, this kind of thing has been going on in my family, to one degree or another, over and over again, for over ten years.

What Has NOT Been Fragmenting My Attention For Over Ten Years

I bored you with that long list describing how I've been using my time recently to make a point. Notice, please, that nowhere in the above section did you see any of the following:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Blogging
  • E-mail (Thank you, God, for e-mail for keeping family members up-to-date. Imagine having to contact one person at a time by phone or mail.)
  • Social media, in general
  • The Internet, in general
The kind of family issues I addressed above are not unique to me. They happen to many people in all walks of life.  Add childcare to that for those with children. For writers and other creatives, add day jobs. And, yet, it's the Internet that is so often targeted as destroying our ability to work. Life problems, not so much.

Why The Internet Is So Easy To Blame

Cal Newport is not the only writer to see the Internet as a major player in distraction or work problems. There's been talk of Internet addiction for years. Arianna Huffington writes frequently about our relationship with technology. (She has concerns.) Twitter and Facebook are routinely described as time wasters for writers. For everybody.

Material on managing work time while putting out fires all over your family over and over again isn't as easy to find. (Please feel free to prove me wrong with links in the comments.)

I think there's a simple reason for this: A piece of writing on managing time or work that only points out problems and offers no solutions isn't going to be terribly useful or popular. The Internet, however, is a problem with a solution. We can grit our teeth and limit our surfing time during the workday. We can avoid Facebook or leave Twitter. We can schedule when we check or respond to e-mail. But most of us don't have what it takes to grit our teeth and ignore elderly, young, and ill family members.

So Is It Hopeless, Gail?

A dear family member has made it clear that my positive attitude is very possibly my worst trait. So, of course, I don't believe those of us with unending family problems are in a hopeless situation.

I have some ideas I'm toying with while I'm using my little bits of time to write a couple of sentences now and then on my major writing project, continue my Saving the Planet & Stuff promotion, and continue trying to submit. (I got two submissions out the week before last. Then an out-of-state family member arrived. August is another month.)

Here's something interesting I've noticed: Last summer we also had family issues here...a surgery...an elder moving...a baby arriving and landing in the NICU. I ended up not working at all for a while. I haven't had to do that so far this year. I'm not working a lot, but I'm managing to get some things done. I have some thoughts about why that's happening, too.

As always, stay tuned.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Can't Say Enough About Recycling And "Saving the Planet & Stuff"

A few years ago, I did a post here at Original Content called The Annotated "Saving the Planet & Stuff" Part Eleven: DIY Recycling. You can go back there to read an excerpt from the book in which main character Michael Racine surveys the items his hosts, Walt and Nora, have been holding onto for years in order to keep them out of a transfer station. Their plan is to reuse them in some way. Not only will they then have kept them out of the transfer station, they will have avoided using new resources to make whatever they've done with them. 

I so understand what they were doing.

Today I'm going to do some more on this recycling idea, mainly because I've got a bunch of pictures I've been saving for this purpose.

Useful Looking Things I Have Held On To, Planning To Do Something With Them Someday  

My most successful recycle. Making a quilt from used denim.  I'm starting with my most successful experience with recycling, because with short, business-like nonfiction you want to put the juicy stuff upfront in case your readers wander off. So my greatest recycle project was this denim quilt.

A Lot Of Denim
Denim, the kind that isn't the result of an unholy breeding program with Spandex, can be used for a lot of things. So I have a lot of used denim. And I am hanging on to this stuff no matter what. It will move with me wherever I go. It will have to be pried out of my cold, stiff hands. I made a good-size denim bag for a gift a couple of years ago, and if I am ever able to have the DIY Weekend Sewing Retreat I keep talking about, I'm going to make one for me.

I Mean A LOT Of Denim
A family member once gave me a pair of used denim pants for my denim collection. The pants were actually in better shape than some I wore. Those are in my closet now. That's recycling, too.

My second most successful recyle. Cutting up Christmas cards to make name tags for Christmas presents. Honest to God, this was a thing years ago. You saw it in magazines. If you own a pair of pinking scissors (and I do), you can make these look pretty good. You ought to also get yourself a paper punch. And some curling ribbon. Yeah, this is some work.

This is a DIY project that's on it's way out, because if you really want to be environmental, you don't send Christmas cards. Plus more and more of the people who do send Christmas cards send personalized ones with their family members' pictures instead of generic Christmas scenes, because they're easy to do. Probably easier than cutting up traditional cards, punching holes in them, and stringing them on the curling ribbon you wrap around presents. 

So-so recyles. Bubble-wrap. Like Walt and Nora in Planet, we held
on to bubble wrap that came in packages we received so that when we had to mail something, we could use this perfectly good stuff and not have to buy more. Turns out, we don't mail that many packages.

Gift tins. Walt and Nora have some of these, too. This was a little more useful back when I was a part of a mom world whose members all baked for one another at Christmas time. Everyone went back to work, and it's all we can do to bake for our families.

Cardboard boxes. This became a huge attic collection. We had a used gift box collection up there, too. Walt and Nora have a box collection, also.

"Plastic sacks filled with more plastic sacks." That's a quote from Saving the Planet & Stuff. Yes, I have a plastic bag collection. Two, in fact. And I have a paper bag collection. I should have placed this higher in the post, maybe as a third most successful recycle. It only seems unsuccessful, because it's on the floor of the pantry. But I reuse bags a lot.

And then there is my Yoga Journal collection. I had years of those things, because the articles were so good and I spend soooo much time rereading magazines.

Recycling Conflicts With Time Management

Taking care of a lot of stuff takes time.  Additionally, a lack of order in surroundings can impact impulse control. And lack of impulse control leads to procrastination. So during multiple purges, I unloaded the bubble wrap, the gift tins, the Yoga Journals, and most of the cardboard boxes.

I have never been that successful a recyler, definitely not on a par with Walt and Nora.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

"Saving The Planet & Stuff" As The Norwegians See It

I am sure you all remember that an excerpt of Saving the Planet & Stuff sold to Norwegian publisher Gyldendal Undervisning two years ago for use in a textbook for teaching English. And the company extended the agreement this past winter.

You can get a look at the textbook in which the Planet material appears. You can get a feeling for how the page layout looks below.

And, remember, the nonNorwegian  Kindle edition is on sale this month for just $1.99.

Friday, July 13, 2018

A Visit To The Storyteller's Cottage

I finally got a chance to visit The Storyteller's Cottage in Simsbury, Connecticut today. We just dropped by and were given a tour by a marvelous staff member whose name I didn't think to ask.

The Storyteller's Cottage is a venue for literary activities. It runs what you might call your traditional book events such as writing classes and author appearances. But it also does unique, outside-the-box things like mystery rooms and costume parties. Check out some of the things it's doing this summer.

Among the spots in the house we hit were the Jane Austen dining room, which is quite lovely, and an early twentieth-century room related to 'thirties-era Agatha Christie mysteries.

The real eye-popper, though, was what I might call the Harry Popper suite. It's more than one room. I'm not even a Harry Potter fan, and I thought these rooms were marvelous.  

As I said, we dropped in on this place. We were in town for Simsbury's Art Trail, an installation of 32 pieces of sculpture by Seward Johnson. One of my favorites was a statue of Monet painting.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Environmental Book Club

This list of climate fiction is made up of adult books, not children's/YA. But the last one, South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby, is supposed to be funny. Clifi, as a general rule, is pretty grim.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Time Management Tuesday: A Summer Read...”Deep Work”

Last week I said I was going to consider whether the concept of  “deep work” could have any connection to “slow work.” Slow work, to the best of my knowledge, seems to be more about dealing with spiritual issues and slowing down to enjoy life rather than slowing down a work pace as a way to work more efficiently and do more, which would make me enjoy life a whole lot more. Deep work, a term coined by Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown University, is a "skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time."

Okay, "quickly" seems as if it shouldn't have anything to do with "slow," but if producing "better results in less time" ends up meaning putting in fewer hours, that's slowing down as far as I'm concerned. Also, Newport is writing about working in an "information economy" or "new economy." He's not writing about writing.

But I've found my best time management ideas in books that were about managing other kinds of work.Therefore, I have a copy of Newport's book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. A summer read is something I think I can manage while continuing to recover from an elder's most recent health crisis. And if it leads to better use of whatever I have for work time when I start living the new normal, boolyah!

An Introduction To Deep Work

In Newport’s introduction to his book, he defines deep work as "Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate." Examples for writers would be...ah...writing. Creating new content.

Deep work sounds like working in flow.  Hmm. Unless flow states are used in order to work deep. One leads to another?

Newport argues that most “most modern knowledge workers” are “rapidly forgetting the value of going deep.” The reason? “Network tools.” By which he means, among other things, the social media that has become part of writers’ work, now that we do a big chunk of our own marketing.  This type of work Newport calls “shallow work."

He describes shallow work as "Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate." Examples for writers would be growing a Twitter following, promoting books on Twitter, maintaining a presence on Goodreads, etc.

Shallow work is the enemy of deep work. "...fragmented attention cannot accommodate deep work, which requires long periods of uninterrupted thinking.”

So far, none of this is really news. In fact, Newport says that, himself. His more original argument is that as our culture shifts toward spending more and more time in the shallows, opportunities exist for the people who are capable of working deep. Because there aren't that many of them.

Think of this in terms of writing. For writers, marketing is the shallows. It doesn't require the kind of depth that producing new content does. (For  professional marketers, this may not be the case. Marketing may be their deep work, at least coming up with new marketing ideas.) I know one writer who has been writing successfully for many years describe how the percentage of time she spends writing has gone down, as she's had to spend more and more time promoting herself. I know of another writer who felt her first book sold, in part, because the publisher believed she had the marketing skills and drive to promote it. This is a case of a writer being rewarded for being good at shallow work or at least spending time doing it.

Nonetheless, no matter how good we are at the shallow stuff at some point we have to go deep enough to generate some content. Without the deep work, there's no need for the shallow work.

More to follow.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

July Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar Update

Tues., July 10, Susan Hood, Barnes & Noble UCONN Storrs Center, 3-5 pm Confratute reception. Includes a presentation moderated by Children’s Literature Professor and Consultant Susannah Richards, a Q&A, and a book signing.

Friday, July 06, 2018

An Ode To An Ode

Slate has a wonderful article by Johanna Winant, All Our Work Holds Good, about poet Donald Hall's Ox-Cart Man.  Among other things, Winant describes how the text of the book was originally a slightly different poem with a different tone.

Donald Hall died last month.

I loved this book when my children were young. I saw it as a tribute to everyday life, something I'm interested in with art. (By the way, Barbara Cooney won the Caldecott Medal for her illustrations for this book.) I read the book a number of times with my kids and think it's time to gift a copy to some other family members.

It would be wonderful to find this book promoted in bookstores this summer as part of a Hall memorial-type display, a way to introduce children to adult poetry. Or just to a really good picture book.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

"Saving The Planet's" Real World Setting In Middlebury, Vermont

Last week I described Saving the Planet & Stuff as having an environmental setting because much of the book's action takes place at the editorial office of an environmental journal. Additionally, there are scenes in the home of seriously committed environmentalists.

But the book also has a "real world" setting, a street and a town. It's set in East Branbury, Vermont, a place you will not find on any maps, because I made it up. (Though you will find Branbury State Park, which my family referred to as Branbury Beach.)

 I grew up in three different towns within a half an hour of Middlebury, and some of my older relatives ran farms in the area back in the day. Nonetheless, in spite of the Gauthier connection, Middlebury was bohemian bourgeois before bohemian bourgeois came to America. (We Gauthiers are neither bohemian nor bourgeois, forget about doing both of them at once.) When I was in high school, Middlebury was where we went to be cool. Except for the Ben Franklin, I couldn't shop in town, it was too expensive. But I can recall muttering obscenities with my friends while struggling to park my parents' car on the street. That's how cool I was then.

So when I wanted a town in Vermont, one with a place for an office and a house and streets to bike on, Middlebury came to mind.

The Middlebury STP&S Connections

First off, I thought of Weybridge Street for the location of Walt and Nora's 70s/80s-era solar home. My Gauthier grandparents lived on Weybridge Street towards the end of their lives, and it is absolutely the only residential street in Middlebury I have any knowledge of. No brainer.

There are several scenes in the book in which Michael and Nora bike to her office. Here is a Weybridge Street view I had in mind for that. Note how flat it is. My kind of biking.  If you read about Michael and Nora on their bikes, think of this kind of street.

Here is what I was thinking of as Michael and Nora's first turn off from Weybridge Street on their daily commute.

Then I envisioned them on a Main Street like Middlebury's. 

The bike trip to The Earth's Wife's office is described as including a steep incline. That's right. That didn't come out of  nowhere.There is an alley in Middlebury that leads to shops and what used to be the Vermont State Craft Center at Frog Hollow, which began during the time Walt and Nora were starting their magazine and was still a going concern while I was writing STP&S.

At the foot of this incline you also find the multi-floor back of some Main Street buildings. In my mind, this is where I located the entrance to The Earth's Wife's offices. They are on an upper floor, and Walt and Nora are renovating a lower floor for another editorial office.

Enough about the ride to the office. In one scene Walt and Michael go to the East Branbury transfer station. I don't have a clue where Middlebury's transfer station is, or if individuals can access it the way Walt does. I just got Michael and Walt out of town by sending them out past a church. And I did have a church in mind, St. Mary's Catholic Church, which the Gauthiers have had some connection with over the years.

One of the most popular scenes in Saving the Planet takes place in a restaurant. I was thinking of one of these store fronts for the restaurant. We're no longer on Main Street here. We're on whatever turns off Main Street to go up the hill toward Rt. 7. Yeah, you know what I'm talking about.

So that gives you an idea of the kinds of things I do in my head to work on settings for a book, particularly this one.

Like Pinterest?

If you like Pinterest, I have a Pinterest Board on STPS's Middlebury setting. It includes some extra personal material on my connection to some of these places.  By the way, you can also find some Pinterest boards I'm using for character development on a new project.


You can follow me on Twitter or use the hashtag #STPStwittered so you can read the Twitter edition of Saving the Planet & Stuff.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Time Management Tuesday: Slow Work And Privilege

So, slow work...it's not a figment of my imagination, but there's not a lot about it out there, either.

"Slow Work"--A Lifestyle Conquers The Working World by Morgaine Gerlach at Society 3.0 (from November 23, 2016) describes slow work as a "workplace variation on the popular lifestyle movement "Slow Food." Slow Food has a national and international presence, with a very specific mission. "...to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteract the rise of fast life and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from and how our food choices affect the world around us." The two main articles I've seen on slow work, the one at Society 3.0 and Slow Down! How "Slow Work" Makes Us More Productive by Peter Bacevice at Time (from way back in 2012) don't have a mission statement anywhere near as clear cut. The Society 3.0 article states that slow work is "about moving through life more consciously, taking the time for the little pleasures of everyday life and dealing with mind and body spirituality."

Maybe it's just me, but I don't find that very specific or attainable. I'm not even sure what I'm trying to attain with those kinds of statements.

Suggestions From Slow Work Articles

The Time article states that slow work philosophy "urges us to punctuate our routines in ways that might initially appear to compromise productivity but actually enhance long-term creativity." That sounds like what I've called the unit system.  The Society 3.0 article includes suggestions that seem to support that.

  • "Take breaks and use these short breaks for a little small talk among colleagues or networking via Xing, LinkedIn & Co."
  • "Actively add relaxation periods to your everyday life, for example, a little yoga in the morning."
  • "Create a short daily schedule in the morning and calculate twice as much time for each point on this to-do list than you would estimate."

The 3.0 article adds:
  • Make more time for yourself within your daily work routine. 
  • Vary your routine. 
  • Look for a way to “break out” of the office.
  • Consider “coworking” with others for a day.

Is Slow Work Only For The Privileged?

If what I've read so far is an accurate description of slow work, it sounds to me as if it is only for those who are in work positions in which they can take breaks and talk with colleagues, they can schedule extra time for the items on the short daily schedule they have the option of creating each money. It sounds as if it's only for those people who are allowed to vary their daily routine, look for ways to get out of the office, and consider coworking.

The 3.0 article concludes with '"Slow Work" can also mean simply working less. The opportunities are varying and always dependent on the individual job as well as the company. The possibilities are part-time employment, home office or sabbatical."

Well, for many people, even people who work for themselves, part-time employment and sabbaticals are not possibilities.

I'm Sorry, But I Need Something A Lot More Specific

In addition to describing slow work  as being "about moving through life more consciously, taking the time for the little pleasures of everyday life and dealing with mind and body spiritually," the 3.0 article says,  "Health and happiness are the focus of the 'Slow Movements.'" Slow work "takes the stress out of the workplace and thus leads to long-term mental and physical well being."

You know what would really lead to long-term mental and physical well being for me? Being able to get the work done that I want to do. Finding specific ways to get enough control both my work nonwork lives  so I can do more of the work I want to do. That would do wonders for my health and happiness, too.

Just because I haven't yet found anything about slow work that will help me with my work doesn't mean there isn't something there. I'm going to stay on it. As part of my slow work thinking, I'm going to consider deep work and minimalism.

The #STPStwittered

Tweeting Saving the Planet & Stuff continues. You can follow it on Twitter with the #STPStwittered hashtag or you're welcome to just follow me altogether at @gail_gauthier. And the Kindle edition of STP&S is on sale at a reduced price this month.