Cal Newport recently posted an article in which he describes his practice of writing down his productivity practices so he can be clear about what he is trying to do. He claims that by not making them explicit, we are subjecting ourselves to the discomfort of open loops exactly parallel to not writing down tasks and obligations. He says that he keeps a printout of this productivity document in a sheet protector in an accessible place.
It seems like a good exercise in taking inventory, and I immediately began brainstorming all my habits and practices of productivity. However, it rapidly expanded to include items that seemed to need to be brought to the surface, such as things I know about my personality, how I deal with situations, my commitments, and my values. I was a little surprised when those things started coming up, but ran with it, assuming my brain had a point in there somewhere.
Katy Bowman, in her Movement Matters book, talks about the importance of having a personal mission statement, a clarification of the values we use to make our choices. I’d been playing with that idea for a bit, as a way to help me make decisions. In writing out this foundational document, I was able to get those values written down.
However, just the values alone are not enough for me to make good decisions. I’d been wrestling with one question for a few months, going back and forth between ‘should I’ and ‘shouldn’t I’. The values statement suggested that I should, but my intuition was telling me that it was a bad idea. As a result, I didn’t know what to do and changed my mind daily, much to my husband’s chagrin. I had also been reading Mark Forster’s Secrets of Productive People, in which, among other things, he talks about the importance of pruning commitments because we can’t keep adding infinitely to our daily tasks.
As I was writing bullet-point after bullet-point, a list of my commitments appeared shortly after a list of my values. Seeing the two next to each other put them into perspective, and I realized what my intuition had known all along: I shouldn’t take on the new responsibility because, while it was aligned with my values and included in my prior commitments, it would have added a new area to my commitments, and I couldn’t expand my commitments without taking time away from something else.
Creating this list, then, helped make explicit the things I know, but don’t think about so much. As a writer, I find self-knowledge a way to begin to understand others and put myself into their shoes. If I’m a morning person, what is it like to be a night person? If I’m compelled to follow my intuition, what is it like to be compelled to follow logic?
This list is mostly a collection of my defaults, not a list of aspirations, or goals. Nor is it a list of things I think everyone should do, or how I think everyone should be. It is, in fact, the opposite of that. I would love to see a similar list for the other people in my life as a way to illuminate why they act and react the way they do.
It would be awful for a list like this to be prescriptive, actually, because the items on it reflect the way my brain works. While I’m sure these things change and shift over time, they do so organically, as a result of our experiences, not because of a mandate from outside.

  • Maintain a Black Cloud List of things I’m dreading that are hanging over me. I do not schedule more than one each day. This is not a general to-do list. It is obvious when something belongs on it.
  • Inbox Zero/Admin Zero Policy: incoming tasks must be discharged “immediately”, meaning the day of or the day after.
  • Inboxes: housekeeping (general, kitchen, laundry), admin (email, physical mail, bookkeeping, phone calls), (what are the writing and academic inboxes? Ongoing tasks and projects have Next Actions?)
  • Commitments: farming, housekeeping, family, academics/homeschooling, personal, writing.
  • Values: Outdoors/nature, organic/natural processes, freedom/independence, inquiry/learning, family/tribe, creativity/making, small/personal, authentic/honest/real.
  • Me: INFP, Highly Sensitive, easily overwhelmed, perfectionist/fearful of mistakes, food/sugar&wheat addiction, anxious, shy; curious, thoughtful, empathetic, loves baseline order, abundance, abstainer, lark, determined, writer, Rebel in general but Obliger with family/tribe, creative, optimizer.
  • Master Calendar lives in Google Calendar.
    Master Meal Planning lives in Plan To Eat.
  • Master Budget lives in Google Sheets.
  • Master Planner lives in bound notebook.
  • Daily Rhythm: I wake up at 5 to give myself about two hours of quiet working time, usually devoted to writing or planning or reflection/morning pages. I accomplish most external tasks before lunch. Lunch is at 11:30. After lunch I require a period of quiet time to nap or read or both. Errands and appointments are scheduled in the afternoon. I begin dinner and evening chores at 4. I have the hardest time controlling my eating/am most driven by the ADTE from about 3 to dinnertime. Dinner is at 6. After dinner, I take care of loose ends and put the house to bed. I do not plan to accomplish anything at bedtime. I prefer to turn out my light before 10 so I can get up early.
  • Food: I get headaches when I eat dairy, less so with cream or butter. My addictive desire to eat (ADTE) is triggered by sugar and wheat, processed foods, and cashews. I am addicted to caffeine, although I’m gradually reducing that. I am an abstainer, not a moderator. I feel best, mentally and physically, when I eat paleo/W30. Eating paleo damps down the ADTE substantially. I tend to be most subjected to the ADTE in the late afternoon, before dinner, less so in the morning and after dinner. The best protections against the ADTE is to eat a lunch with minimal carbs, no wheat, and no sugar. Fatty protein is best at promoting satiety. Satiety is less important at dinner, least important at breakfast. My default lunch is a bowl of meat and veg with some sort of fatty sauce added, and spice. My default breakfast is two or three pieces of fruit, and/or an egg in butter. I can tell a food is healthy because I can stop eating it when I’m full/I’m satisfied. An unhealthy food drives me to continue eating. It is easier to not start than to stop.
  • The Notebook: I keep my brain in my notebook. Extensive writing happens on the computer in the Daily Writing file, but day to day planning, note-taking, and lists are kept in the notebook. It must be small enough to fit in my purse. Conversely, my purse must be large enough to fit my notebook. I work out of my notebook, keeping phone numbers in there, to do lists, making notes for follow-up, maintaining academic notes, planning, among other things. During the day, the notebook remains open and visible on my kitchen desk. I use colored pens because it makes it pretty to look at. It must be a blank book: pre-printed planners do not offer enough flexibility. I fill one at a time, labeling the cover with the dates when I archive them. Tags and indexing does not seem to work for me. Washi tape labels might.
  • Birthday and Holiday gifts must be purchased by the first of the month.
  • We get our Christmas tree Thanksgiving weekend, preferably Friday. It comes down around January 6th. We celebrate Christmas with watching A Christmas Carol, Secret Santa gifts, 24th gifts, stocking stuffers, regular gifts, a formal dinner. On Christmas morning, we look at our stockings, eat breakfast, then open gifts one at a time.
  • We celebrate birthdays with cake and a nice dinner.
  • I prefer to buy most of my clothing used.
  • Delight, whimsy, exuberance.
  • House colors: creamy yellow, purple, crimson, turquoise, moss green.
  • My colors: warm spring.
  • Refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose: sustainability.
  • I need to read every day.
  • Fiction is addictive, but necessary. I try to pay attention to what is being done in the story and how.
  • Things need homes; disorder means things without homes. Give things homes or get rid of them.
  • I am a writer—I am always thinking, always observing. This is my vocation. My other commitments must be shuffled to permit writing.
  • Housekeeping priorities are: meals, clean kitchen, laundry upkeep, sanitary bathroom.
  • Academic priorities are: math and phonics, literature, self-directed learning, conversation.
  • Writing priorities are: morning pages, one fiction project, blog.
    Farming priorities are: chickens, garden.
  • Personal priorities are: food, movement, nature, quiet, reading, (thinking/writing), touch.
  • Going outside is important for everyone.
  • One thing in, one thing out after decluttering. For clothing (where I have a high rate of attrition): one thing out, two things in.
  • My house is my studio, not a showplace.
  • I’d rather do it myself.
  • I am more concerned about chemicals than germs.
  • I’d rather give the body the space to heal itself than interfere.
  • I depend heavily on my intuition, which is simply the brain’s ability to process information faster and better than we are consciously aware of. I cannot go against my intuition without strong discomfort.
  • I need less to eat than I think I do (when I’m eating the proper food); I want to eat it all. Therefore it works best if  I 1) serve myself 2)on a smaller plate or bowl and 3)don’t go back for seconds when it’s gone.
  • I cannot tolerate arguments and disagreements. I need harmony.
  • It is easier to clean it up immediately. “Pick it up, don’t pass it up, then put it away.” (Easier said than done.)
  • Do a little every day.
  • Word for 2017: incremental.
  • I plan to do things at the last possible minute so they don’t take up more time than they need.
  • I do things as fast as possible to get them done.
  • I need to make a conscious effort to delegate more responsibilities to the kids.
  • The solution to procrastination is not more willpower, but setting project goals, and intermediate deadlines and earlier deadlines.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *