Fresh

fresh

I used to love starting each new year at school with brand new stuff. Fresh school books, new pens and pencils, a whole ruler. Such an invitation to create when everything is fresh and clean and new, much nicer than the tatty books, stubs of pencil and broken ruler from the end of last year. Unfortunately my proclivity towards messiness meant it never took long for the newness to wear off and the ruler to be snapped in two.

So, now I have a fresh new website, shiny and unspoiled by my lousy taste and general scruffiness. What I do not have is a school teacher to tell me what I must write on it. Faced with uninhibited choice my brain has fritzed and left me uninspired.

Although I enjoy writing, it is much easier to read what others have written or to dick around playing computer games. And thus a month has passed, I have paid for web hosting and used it for owt.

If nothing else, the many hundreds of once pristine pages which became filled with scrawled notes and cross-outs have taught me that although the ‘finished’ product never really feels finished to my satisfaction and always disappoints me, the process of getting to it is what is most valuable. After those pages have been incinerated upon another ritual bonfire of freedom, it is the ability to create them again that stays with me.

This realisation acts as a catalyst to overcome the barrier to publishing on this nice new blog. Although Google and the so-called SEO experts will spout forth that ‘content is king’, it is in fact the process which reigns. The little, messy, muddled steps of writing posts which in time I will want to cast upon a bonfire serve to help a writer grow.

So here’s to the ability to write a little better tomorrow than we do today. Cheers!

Writing voice

writing-voice
It has been more than six months since I was consistently writing blog posts. So I was curious to notice that the voice I used in my writing several days ago is almost identical to the way I used to write last year. Which gets me wondering if my writing voice is now set, or whether I can change it if I desire to?

What is my writing voice? Where does it originate from?

Is it the voice in my head as I think about what I want to write and later edit my creation? Can I choose a certain voice and have it be genuinely mine or is that just faking it?

My best guess is that a person’s writing voice is pretty much the voice they use in their own head. Anything else is going to show some cracks sooner or later as they leave a network of inconsistencies and undertones through their writing. While this may be a problem in a professional sort of environment, it is a good thing in a blog as it helps to get a feel for the personality of the author behind the posts and enables some sort of connection between author and audience.

When you think about it, the words on a page (or screen) are written by a person, it follows that the personality of the writer is going to show through in the way each person writes. Yet voice must comprise more than just personality, there is also skill and knowledge involved – it is easy to spot a writer who lacks these elements! And obviously life experience must also have a hefty influence; all the bottled up angst, rage, loves, losses, struggles and wasted years seep through words as they flow from pen to page (OK, keyboard to screen).

Remember that you’re also not just you, but many people. You’re a parent or a friend or a lover or an employee or a speaker or a blogger or a stranger on the street or a patron at a restaurant or a person jogging in the park. You have many facets of personality, and each one is a part of you. (James Chartrand, Men with Pens)

The quote above helps explain my thinking behind setting up this website in the way I have. Previously I’ve blogged for three years on the topic of faith in Christ, then gradually I began looking for other outlets to write about other stuff that is rattling around in my head. I also had ideas of creating a blog/website focussing on substances that are poisonous to pets. All these are aspects of who I am and in the end I decided to bring them together within one website.

Maybe this site will become a bit of a hodge-podge of stuff I write, but hopefully in it all my writing will improve and a cohesive voice will unify diverse content. And getting back to the topic of writing voice, this seems like a good summary:

Voice is not one thing. It is, in fact, the summation of a writer. (Chuck Wendig, terribleminds)

 

The self-ordering heap

self-ordering-heap

I want to introduce you to the best ‘productivity hack’ I have ever come across. This system works with your brain rather than against it as most productivity systems do. There is literally nothing to learn or remember, no software to install, no special equipment necessary. You can begin using this system right now, no setup or installation required!

Sound too good to be true? Wondering how much such an all-encompassing productivity suite will cost? Will you believe me when I say $0, as in FREE!?

The truth is, God has already done the hard work on this one. You have behind your eyes and between your ears the most advanced ordering and cataloging software ever devised, yet most people use it less the more elevated they climb in the professional world.

After 20 years of testing the system I am about to explain, I have found it to be robust, adaptable, platform agnostic and technology independent. No other organisational system I have tried comes even close to the reliability of the self-ordering heap. The principle was taught to be by my boss in 1989, he had truly perfected the system and several others in our department were also experts in its use.

The hard copy system

The idea is very simple. In the eighties offices were primarily paper based so I will explain the implementation in that environment before discussing how it works electronically. Imagine your desk with a clear area where you work. Surrounding this area is a semi circular heap of paper, like the rim of a crater. As you work away in the centre of this circle the current document is in the middle and if something more important or urgent comes in you plonk it on the heap. It doesn’t matter where, it will simply be on top somewhere.

You carry on working on the currently most urgent document. Then a phone call comes in asking about something you did yesterday so you shuffle through the pile and find that piece of paper, bringing it to the clear centre. On finishing the phone call you either toss the relevant bit of paper back on the heap, chuck it in the rubbish if it is no longer needed, file it if desired for future reference or mail it to the appropriate person. Find what you need to work on next from the pile and carry on.

Occasionally as you riffle through paper on the desk, something will fall off the edge. This attracts your attention so it is retrieved and quickly scanned to see if it is important. In some cases you realise it is extremely important and should have been delivered yesterday so you drop everything and attend to it. Most times it is still important but not yet urgent so back on the heap it goes. Other times you discover that it is way past it’s due date and thereby now useless, so it goes in the rubbish. This is how the heap becomes ‘self-ordering’.

The beauty of this system is it’s absolute simplicity, you don’t need to do any organising at all, just respond to the triggers as they arise and you know that everything you need to do today’s work is right there somewhere in the heap. This is the complete opposite of the “GTD” methodology or any of the other supposedly sophisticated task management systems. The heap requires no specific upkeep and builds itself. It utilises the natural power of your own mind to make discrete, immediately actionable decisions, giving a sense of achievement while also keeping a clear view of the work to be done.

The heap is so incredibly easy to use and implement because it rests upon a fundamental law of physics; entropy. All systems move towards a state of maximum entropy (disorder), to maintain any system in a state of ‘order’ requires the input of energy. Why waste valuable energy and time maintaining order in a system which has the sole purpose of making you ‘efficient’? This is not efficiency, it is directing energy and time away from the work you should be doing plus adding distraction and stress each time your precious productivity system is nudged yet again back towards it’s preferred state of chaos. Go with the flow man, use the self-ordering heap.

Harness the laws of physics to enable you to focus upon the important work rather than on maintaining a productivity system.

On your computer

As I mentioned, the heap works completely independent of technology. You could try it using a notebook but unfortunately the lines and pages of a notebook do act as constraints upon the heap’s self-ordering tendency. Computers, however, are a fantastic facilitator of the heap. Consider your computer desktop (and why such a metaphor is so apt for that space!) or email inbox as examples.

The natural tendency is for a large folder of computer files to become increasingly messy as more stuff is added. Do not fight this. Instead harness the power of your brain, the heap and your computer together to allow the heap to work for you.

The only thing you need to do is put everything in one big folder (well, and to resist sorting it!). Due to software constraints it may be necessary to have several heaps on your computer, such as an email inbox and desktop folder. Most computer stuff is happy in one of these two places. Then simply let the heap work for you – you know exactly where to look for anything, desktop or inbox. For the desktop folder it may be worth making the folder view sort by date modified rather than by name, and now just focus on the recent stuff and let others remind you of anything else.

Occasionally you may want to scroll down a bit and allow serendipity to draw your attention to some old document that has gathered gamma rays. If it is still useful then use it, if not use the trash can – it is there for a reason.

If you can’t find something, the computer has a search function, and by keeping everything in one place it is even more efficient, only one folder to search!

But what about the ‘falling off the edge of the desk’ function? For a similar mechanism on the computer wait until you begin to run out of hard disc capacity then go the the bottom of the list when sorted by ‘last modified’ and start deleting. If anything important is there you will see it and have an “Oh my God!” moment. Epiphanies are good, savour them.

So I say “phooey” to Inbox Zero, Getting Things Done and the Pomodoro Technique. Entropy all the way for me!

(By the way, this is what is commonly called a piss-take, but there is truth in here too.)


Update (September 2015): A somewhat related concept that I stumbled across well after writing this post: Time Sort (Noguchi) Filing System.

Keep going back to Christ

A couple of comments from the internet resonated with me this week:

The first is a good reminder that being ordinary and of no great talent is normal in God’s Kingdom and cannot be used as an excuse for not being fully obedient to Christ:

The truth is…people who live all out for God were not made more special.  They just tasted something good and kept going back for it. (Lisa WhittleIf We Only Knew)

When I look at myself and despair of ever being useful to God it is a correct response – of myself I am nothing. Only in Christ do I have anything to give of value. This is not humility; consider how many truly talented or gifted people you know. Such people stand out in our minds because they are unusual, most of us are pretty average, generally selfish, and struggling to keep our own lives in order.

Occasionally, however, an average, struggling person gives of their life for others in preference to a life of selfishness. It is a rare thing, most times such people are followers of Christ who appear happy to forsake worldly pursuits in order to do His work rather than their own. To meet these people can at times be disappointing, no profound difference from you or I, they feel anxiety about having enough money to pay the bills, they become tired and exhausted, even wondering if what they do in the name of Jesus is in vain. The primary attribute that distinguishes these servants of Christ is a persistent, dogged conviction that no cost is too great to know God.

I freely admit to not being such a person yet. So I gain encouragement from the idea that being a great person is not required, even having great faith is not necessary. All I need is small faith in our great God, faith which is persistent and keeps coming back to Jesus regardless of how often or how far I may drift from Him.

In this I found another helpful snippet on the web:

 … I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy. (Psalm 43:4)

God promises to be your exceeding joy, not because of what He gives, but because of who He is.  When we behold and worship Him we have infinitely more joy than we have in anything else. (Steve FullerFive Promises to Help Your Times With God)

Joy in God is not instant but grows as I return to Him again and again and again, seeking Him in preference to the multitude of other distractions in life.

Migrating

I first began blogging in November 2009, which is also when I joined Facebook. Since then I’ve written many blog posts, status updates and tweets. At least half a dozen domain names have been registered by me with great ideas of stuff I’d like to publish but time and motivation have failed to follow through.

As my own interests, goals and motivation for online writing has morphed over these four years and as social media has evolved into a gigantic advertising machine, it seems time to transition from a niche blog with a strong focus on a single (major) aspect of my life to a more general personal blog that can serve as my online hub.

To some this may be viewed as a backwards step – there are millions of largely un-read personal blogs out there so why add to the mass? My defence: “Facebook made me do it!”

You see, I hate advertising. It really pisses me off, especially when it is intrusive and poorly done, as is most online advertising. Over the last 12 months the big social media sites have been steadily increasing the proportion of advertisements being inserted into timelines. So have the ‘news’ websites, using trivial entertainment to attract pageviews to generate advertising revenue. Finally I am grumpy enough to make a move.

My personal view is that the ‘free-but-supported-by-advertising’ model deserves to die a miserable death. I realise I am in the minority but feel strongly enough about this to not only reduce my use of Facebook and Twitter but also to pay for website hosting on the Squarespace platform in preference to using WordPress.com in order to stop supporting an advertising based business model.