Things Changed Quickly & What We Do Now

Things have changed quickly.

Comedian Norm MacDonald joked, “Think back a week ago. I loved back a week ago.”

While there had been newscasts about a virus developing over-seas, it wasn’t taken seriously enough in the US until only recently. Even on March 13th, after the president said it was a national emergency, even after the governor of Illinois said to stay home unless you are having a medical emergency, many weren’t taking it seriously enough.

Several partied that weekend in bars in close quarters and went to spring break in Miami. People returning home all at once were stuck in the airports for hours under the worst conditions.

While we could denounce them or those still outside, it is important to remember that we are all human. We are all afraid. It is very difficult to understand the gravity of a situation, let alone act rationally, when we are afraid.

Maybe you’re reading this in a town where the reality hasn’t quite hit. Even if you do understand, it is still difficult when you are accused of being hysterical, shouting that the sky is falling.

On Friday March 20th, Dr. Emily Landon, an epidemiologist from the University of Chicago gave an excellent and impassioned speech about the importance of what is going on and how we can help.

 

Personally, I think we need to ask ourselves:

“Do I know the histories of everyone I have been in contact with for the last 14 days?”

(The incubation of the virus until symptoms is up to 14 days.) The answer is inevitably no. I wonder, therefore, if we should all quarantine ourselves. Of course, everyone will need to make their own decision.

Bars and restaurants have now been shut down as well as any non-essentials. Schools are closed for at least a month, and I’m willing to bet longer. Those who can are working from home. We are coming to grips with our new reality.

As George RR Martin says on his not-a-blog:

“Some days, watching the news, I cannot help feeling as if we are all now living in a science fiction novel. But not, alas, the sort of science fiction novel that I dreamed of living in when I was a kid, the one with the cities on the Moon, colonies on Mars, household robots programmed with the Three Laws, and flying cars. I never liked the pandemic stories half so well…”

This wasn’t the version of a science fiction future I was looking forward to.

So what do we do?

Acknowledge our fears.

Acknowledge our hopes.

Both are vital.

Acknowledging our Fears

We do our best to face the anxiety. Philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich once wrote:

“Fear, as opposed to anxiety, has a definite object… which can be faced, analyzed, attacked, endured. One can act upon it, and in acting upon it participate in it—even if in the form of struggle. In this way one can take it into one’s self-affirmation.
 
“Courage can meet every object of fear, because it is an object and makes participation possible. Courage can take the fear produced by a definite object into itself, because this object, however frightful it may be, has a side with which it participates in us and we in it.”
 
– Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be, Yale University Press, 2000

By paying attention to the news, the world around us, our neighbors, our friends, and our own emotions, we can condense our worries into fears. And when they become fears, we can mount courage and act. We can better see what can and cannot be done. And therefore, we can act more decisively and meaningfully.

When we do not acknowledge what is making us anxious, when we try to distract ourselves, difficulty in decisions appear everywhere in our lives. The clouds of anxiety pervade our thoughts, miring us in the muck.

We all risk loss–loss of ourselves, loss of our loved ones, and loss of our livelihoods. And that is damn near paralyzing.

It can be all too easy to tune out. There is a draw to binge watching without discretion, to burying ourselves in drugs and alcohol and holding an end of the world party for one.

Engaging Our Hopes

Instead though, we can focus on developing those things we find meaningful. We can start by having an important role in taking care of those we don’t know, simply by staying at home. Beyond that, we can enjoy our time with family. We can video conference with our friends and loved ones. We can start those projects that have just been sitting there. We can enjoy more home cooking. We can take care of ourselves.

That is not to say don’t watch Netflix or play games. I certainly am. These are just as important as anything else.

But be deliberate.

Consider a small number of things to move forward today. Maybe 2 to 4 things as a suggestion, though everyone’s circumstances are different. Whether you are one of the lucky ones who can attend school or work from home or even be paid while off, or you are unpaid and terrified you’re about to lose your apartment, it is still important to clearly consider what you can move forward.

You can only act from where you are, here and now.

Moving something forward a little bit each day is likely more important than doing something all at once. Doing so helps you to build the structures needed to keep moving forward. Particularly when we don’t have the structure of the work day to guide and remind us, we need to have that much more sense of agency for ourselves.

Ask, what would be meaningful to move forward? And if nothing comes to mind, that’s fine. Set the question aside for a moment, but clearly consider when will you come back to it. In 10 minutes? an hour? tomorrow? Weigh the fears and the tendency to procrastinate as part of your decision. Set an alert to return to the question.

We are suddenly faced with time. We think we want more, but now that there’s more, it’s quickly apparent that there is still not enough.

Final Thoughts & The Need for Humor

Whatever happens in the next few months or even years will likely leave deep scars, physical and emotional, on those of us who survive. But part of that scar is how we can deliberately change to protect ourselves and work for a future. As Governor Pritzker said, and I paraphrase, whatever happens will change us, but whatever happens should change us.

We cannot become paralyzed with fear. And, we cannot drug ourselves on entertainment. Keeping our eye on our fears helps us stay grounded. Developing what we find meaningful helps us to continue engaging the world.

Meanwhile, humor is as important as ever. Here’s a bit of comedy from a couple of weeks ago, which feels like ages ago. Norm has said this might have been his last public stand up performance. My apologies if he’s not your brand of humor 1:

 


  1. While we could fault the audience for sitting near each other, most everyone was doing the same at that time. It’s just startling to see as is just about every show where I see people going out. 

Calendar Integration – Part 3: More on Time Blocking & The Calendar

Today’s post is a follow up to two posts:

After posting the Workflow app integration post, I received a message about the importance of going in the other direction, i.e. assigning a time in the calendar for any task in OmniFocus. While I address this to some degree in the Time Blocking post, I do not believe it goes far enough into detail. So let’s get into it…

I continue to time block my individual tasks only sparingly. Usually, my work days are already blocked by way of meeting clients. My day to day tasks are already well curated enough that I have the time to do them between those meetings. However, on days where there is little structure, time blocking can be quite useful.

The image I’d used in the Time Blocking post was:

Transferring tasks from Omnifocus to Calendar app

Transferring tasks from Omnifocus to Calendar app

Here, I noted that you could drag and drop a task into OmniFocus and the Calendar app would automatically create an hour entry in the Calendar. It also creates a link back to the original task. While this is still true, there is something left to be desired. Let’s go through a planning session and see how this can be improved.

In the morning, I can go to may Today perspective (previously titled “Dashboard”) and see a set of tasks to work on:

The Today Perspective

The Today Perspective

I tend to use an overview project, called Land & Sea. It allows me to group the work of my day into sessions of work, rather than individual tasks. In effect, I create Channels of Work. In other words, each of these Today tasks link to another project, perspective, context, or otherwise. I do that work, and then return to the Today perspective, and mark the task complete.

To time block, I would instead transfer each task to the calendar. However, there are at least a few issues that arise:

  1. There are now two tasks, one on the calendar and one in OmniFocus.
  2. I could mark the task complete in OmniFocus as soon as it is transferred, but if I change my mind in the midst of planning, I have to recreate the task somewhere.
  3. The calendar task, as transferred, links to the task itself. It does not link to the actual work, which is instead represented by the link I created in any task’s note field.

We can solve these issues by the following.

As a preliminary step, we can use a default “Reserved” calendar in the Calendar application. That way, when we transfer a task, it is in a reserved status until we are ready to commit to it being on the calendar.

Then, in any planning session, likely in the morning:

  1. Open and review the Today perspective.
  2. Transfer tasks, one at a time, from the Today perspective to the Calendar.
  3. Open a Today task’s note field in OmniFocus (Command-‘) and copy and paste the link over to the one created by the Calendar.
  4. Change the calendar from Reserved to one that signifies its committed state.
  5. Mark the task as completed in OmniFocus.

For example, the initial state of the calendar item is:

Review - Family Agenda - Reserved

Review – Family Agenda – Reserved

I change the link and the calendar to:

Review - Family Agenda - Committed

Review – Family Agenda – Committed

In this way, we can transfer the working list from OmniFocus to the calendar.

There are two potential issues that I do not find to be that problematic, but are still worth mentioning:

  1. Marking it as complete in OmniFocus no longer means that the work itself is complete, but instead that it has been scheduled for the today. It is a different habit/feel for working to adapt to.
  2. I have to continue to transfer tasks to the calendar as they come up during the day. If I do not, then I end up with two locations for storing work, which can be problematic. Still, I can visit the Inbox with regularity.

I also don’t want to give the impression, with the example above, that I only spend my family time staring at OmniFocus, dictating tasks. My upcoming family time will be spent with my daughter playing Cuphead, which is freaking awesome.

A Daily Review Habit

“Falling off the GTD wagon” (or any task system for that matter) can be all too easy and all too disrupting.  Especially, when you’ve grown used to a system, the gradual loss of trust in that system can come with feelings of anxiety, the need for constant damage control, putting out fires, losing follow up tasks, losing communication trails, losing the state of projects, and more.

To keep a system useful, it needs to be reviewed regularly. I often say that I’m not sure a system even exists unless it is reviewed.

Getting Things Done author, David Allen, suggests weekly as an optimal frequency. I used to review my entire system weekly and had done so for several years. At times, the review process would take me about 1-2 hours. I’d often feel quite positive about doing a review as I know how on top of things I can feel.

But, that is a chunk of time.  I can easily see how a person would lose the interest in review especially at times, for example, when things are very heavy or very light. At those times, you may think either, “I have no time” or “Why bother?”, respectively. The problem is that work ebbs and flows, and you can get hit with a whole bunch at once.

Nowadays, I do both a daily and a weekly review, which interestingly saves me time. The Daily Review takes about as long as my coffee takes to brew in the mornings. The Weekly Review is more centered on system blindspots and now takes about 20-30 minutes.

The Daily Review

My Daily Review includes:

  • Clearing the Inbox,
  • Reviewing any projects that are in the Review indicator, and
  • Making sure my flagged projects are appropriate for the day.

Generally, I use the iPhone to do this:

Morning Mini-Review - Before & After

Detailing the process, I:

  • Examine my calendar to review my scheduled meetings and appointments.
  • Acknowledge any tasks that are due soon as noted from the Forecast view.
  • Process the Inbox to “0”
  • Review all projects requesting review, thereby bringing that number to “0”. Note that this is a different method of Review than what I was doing when writing in Creating Flow with OmniFocus. At that time, I was doing the Weekly Review session only. Now, I do this aspect of the review daily.
  • Review the Land & Sea project as needed. I set its review reminder to every other day, so it is examined very regularly as part of this Daily Review.
  • Examine the Dashboard and decide if it supports me for the day.
  • Process the Inbox to “0” again, as needed.

If I want to be more thorough, I may also:

  • Review my Communications perspective
  • Review my Filing perspective

When I can sit with my tasks and calendar with a sense that they will support me and nothing else comes to mind, about my day or otherwise, I can then pause and decide on what to do next.

This can seem like a lot, but when you’re practiced, all of this can take only a few minutes.  Even if you work from a simpler set of lists, maybe only a single todo list, the same applies.  Examining the list and waiting until nothing else about it comes to mind can be a powerful way to help you move through your day smoothly.

 

My Current OmniFocus Dashboard “Recipe”

My workflow has, in general, shifted towards a session-focused style, as is evident from my recent post.  Essentially, that just means that my dashboard of tasks number only a few (about 5-8, give or take) and each represents a session of work. They are not very specific tasks and are more orchestrating in nature.  This means that my choices of what to do next are simple.

In addition, I tend to work by habit. In other words, I often work on a project over multiple sessions.  Similarly, my routines for maintenance are also a matter of recurring sessions.

As a result, my Dashboard has largely become a series of repeating tasks, using the “Defer Another” function.  Tasks repeat at different frequencies – daily, weekly, monthly, or other.. My current Dashboard “recipe” includes the following:

  • 1-3 “Land & Sea” tasks daily (“Land & Sea” Project)
  • 1 Office Filing task on weekdays, (“Routine : Home & Office” Project)
  • 1 Home Filing task on Fridays, (“Routine : Home & Office” Project)
  • 1 Weekly Review task on Fridays, (“Routine : Home & Office” Project)
  • 1 Family Agenda review everyday, (“Routine : Home & Office” Project)
  • 1 Develop: Music task everyday, (“Music & Artistry : Music & Artistry” Project)
  • 1 Morning Communications on weekdays, (“Routine : Home & Office” Project)
  • 1 Afternoon Communications on weekdays, (“Routine : Home & Office” Project)
  • 1 Financial Maintenance task monthly, (“Routine : Home & Office” Project)
  • Rare odds & ends when they do not fit in the above.

Each task links to a custom perspective or project.

And, of course, there are types of habitual work that do not appear above. For example, I also have the clients I see throughout the day, so I often check on my @Office : Agendas context in the morning.  Clients are scheduled in the calendar.

Also, these tasks are not forced.  For example, a particularly busy day with clients means I may not make it to a Land & Sea project that I thought I could have. If that occurs too often, though, it is likely time for me to re-evaluate my workload. In that way, I use my understanding of how the system is stressed to consider where to make adjustments in my general workflows.