7 Quick Takes on Scorpions, Peace, and Quality Time

7 Quick Takes, hosted at This Ain't the Lyceum

— 1 —

A scorpion came to get me last week. As I got to my desk at work, I saw something moving on the carpet right outside of my cube. It’s standard office carpet, so it’s hard to see things on it, but not when they are gross and terrible bugs. So instead of “good morning” (or my usual nothing at all), I said, “Who’s going to kill this scorpion for me?” The nice intern in the next cube came to the rescue with his giant boots. Crisis averted.

— 2 —

I got a diagnosis for that health problem I mentioned last week. I am very glad to finally know what it is. It’s not contagious, and I’m not dying (which I knew), but it’s also not exactly good. I’ll write more soon. I haven’t quite had the time to find just the right words, and you all know how I love words.

— 3 —

I read some more about inbox zero at Asian Efficiency last week, which inspired me to post about it on Facebook. Curiously, I attracted comments mostly from my guy friends. The mysterious algorithm knows that men like tech, I guess. I was also inspired to finally press publish on my latest Wunderlist and GTD post. You might find it useful even if you’re not a GTD-er or a Wunderlister.

— 4 —

This week was full of work and fajitas. We have a monthly billing cycle, so the last 2 weeks of the month are always a flurry of paperwork. This month felt distinctly heavier than usual. We half-jokingly call that “job security.” On the bright side, it’s bell pepper season, so I bought way more than strictly necessary and enjoyed every delicious bite. I might try my hand at freezing what I can’t eat before they start to wilt. All the slicing takes forever, but that delectable crunch cannot be beat.

— 5 —

My blessing of the week was getting to have several catch-up conversations this weekend and not feel drained by them. I’ve become an extrovert since grad school, but I slip back into introversion pretty easily, so I still feel drained when I have to be “on” for too long. It helped that two of the conversations (BFF Sarah and my mom) were by phone, one (Mr. Man) was via Skype, and one (local lovely Britt) was in person. As the NYT article I recommended concludes, quality time can’t be scheduled or manufactured, but when it happens, it is glorious and so, so necessary.

— 6 —

Our country and our world desperately need peace. If you weren’t praying for peace already, now is the time to start. I have my qualms about the National Black Catholic Congress, but their suggestion to offer this prayer for peace is one I jumped on board with very quickly:

O God, who gave one origin to all peoples
and willed to gather from them one family for yourself,
fill all hearts, we pray, with the fire of your love
and kindle in them a desire
for the just advancement of their neighbor,
that, through the good things which you richly bestow upon all,
each human person may be brought to perfection,
every division may be removed,
and equity and justice may be established in human society.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

—Collect, Votive Mass for the Progress of Peoples, from the Roman Missal

— 7 —

I got to visit Mr. Man again this weekend. It is always so good to see him in person. Details will follow in this week’s Sunday Style.


For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum.

Booking Through Thursday: “I Don’t Read”

bookingthroughthursday

What is your response when somebody tells you “I don’t read”?

“I call shenanigans.” Everyone likes to read; the question is what someone likes to read. Not everyone is a Serious Literary Fiction kind of person. I respect that. But if you read blogs, you read. If you subscribe to email newsletters, you read. If you only read what Oprah recommends, you read. Even if you only skim articles your friends share on Facebook, you read!

As a book reviewer, I have to keep a certain pace and topic focus in my personal reading. As an English teacher (even if only at heart), I know the struggle of reading books you don’t like when you don’t want to, and I know it from both sides of the classroom. The key is that reading—reading anything—teaches us what it means to be human. It shares experiences, information, and imagination. It’s asynchronous, unlike conversation, and it can last for centuries. There is little that is more important to civilization than life transmitted by way of the written word.

And then I drop the mic.

John Krasinski drops the mic, then catches it, because dropping is bad for the mic.


For more short queries about books and the reading life, visit Booking Through Thursday.

Sunday Style: A Priest, Not a Pokemon

I was ready for church early this week! I took flowers to the friend who let me use her shower while our water heater was broken, so I had to be presentable earlier than usual, and that carried through. Hooray!

My Sunday Best for July 17

Dress: Converse for Target
Shirt: Target
Shoes: Fergie for Famous Footwear
Belt: Target
Necklace: holy medals
Earrings: so, so old (Claire’s?)

I’ve run into a bit of a dry spell with my work clothes, but my church outfits feel completely refreshed now that the summer stuff is all back. I missed this dress. As with previous weeks, it feels much shorter than it is, but I also like how light and billowy it is. I feel pretty in it.

For Mass this week, we had a guest Indian priest. His name was Fr. Polycarp, a name which always makes me giggle inappropriately because it sounds like Magikarp. (Sadly, this is an association I’ve had since long before Pokemon Go.) Fr. Polycarp went to seminary with Fr. Associate Pastor in Sri Lanka and was visiting for a retreat. When Fr. AP had to leave for a sick call, Fr. Polycarp stepped in to help. This made me wonder: if there had been a sick call with no other priests around, who would have gone, and who would have stayed for the several hundred of us at Mass? When I worked in ministry, we had four or five priests within range at all times, so that usually wasn’t an issue. Is this just something Catholic nerds think about?

The Gospel was Mary and Martha, a.k.a. the one that makes people feel bad for serving. Fr. Polycarp noted that this Gospel can’t be seen as cracking down on hospitality partly because the first reading is all about hospitality. Abraham is specifically rewarded for giving so generously to his visitors (who is/are God; weird moment at the beginning there). On the other hand, despite Jesus’ praise of Mary, prayer is not so important that it should keep us from feeding the hungry, and acts of service and hospitality are not more important than prayer. They’re both important. We should cling to prayer and work. (Shout-out to Benedictines.)

I also noticed that Fr. Polycarp referenced Matthew 25, which Fr. AP also talked about last week. You don’t usually even get that kind of continuity from the same priest week-to-week! Let’s see what I hear next Sunday.


For more Mass fashion and commentary, visit Rosie at A Blog for My Mom for My Sunday Best.

My Sunday Best, hosted at A Blog for My Mom

Not Alone Series: Wedding Fun

notaloneseries

This month’s guest hostess is our other co-founder, Morgan.

We are now fully immersed in wedding season! What are your favorite parts of a wedding? Where do you find the best dresses for the occasion? Have any unique gift ideas? Share anything and all tips and tricks with us!

I generally like weddings. Before I took up West Coast Swing, weddings were my best chance at a good, old-fashioned dance party: less teenage awkwardness, more fun. I also like going to church and dressing up, although managing the expenses of travel and clothing can be tricky.

I find my favorite wedding guest dresses at department stores. The one I’m wearing in this photo was originally purchased from Kohl’s for a wedding. I re-wore it for so many formal occasions that I eventually had to retire it. I still have it, though, just in case!

purefashiondessertwithdadyoungpros

Me with my fellow Young Professionals volunteers. Photo by Anastasia Curtis.

My favorite gift idea stems from my budgeting lifestyle. My personal rule is that I will spend money to be in a wedding, to fly to a wedding, or to purchase a customary gift, but not for all three. So when I don’t send a regular gift, I like to give spiritual bouquets.

When I describe this concept to friends I’ve met post-college, they’re always a little bewildered. It must be one of those things like my holy medals (I wear four) that is more common on the East Coast than inland. A spiritual bouquet is a collection of prayers, sacrifices, etc. offered for a particular occasion. It’s like a bouquet flowers, except that flowers die. Prayers have eternal effect. It also has the advantage of being way less expensive than actual flowers or most other wedding gifts.

When I am invited to a wedding I can’t attend, I actually do both: a regular present and a spiritual one, usually a rosary prayed as the wedding begins. When I’m invited to one I just can’t afford, I like to combine a rosary, a Divine Mercy Chaplet, and some other prayer that reminds me of the couple (St. Michael, or even just a bunch of Our Fathers and Hail Marys).

My favorite single-girl wedding strategy is to dance the night away. Literally. I generally wear my hair up to weddings because it won’t get sweaty from dancing for hours. (It’s also usually in updo-only condition by Saturday. #blackhaircareproblems) I pick relatively comfortable shoes. Dancing nonstop keeps me from drinking too much and sitting around complaining about how, yet again, this is not my wedding. I’m always without a partner, but that doesn’t matter. My freestyle is beyond satisfactory. I’m developing a small collection of wedding thank-you cards that specifically note my masterful dance floor presence.

Even when I’m down about not being married myself, someone else’s wedding is a chance for me to look good and celebrate for a few hours. I can get behind that.


View past and upcoming topics here or like our Facebook Page for regular alerts.

Link up with Morgan at Follow and Believe!

Faith in Action (Review: 7 Habits That Define Our Catholic Identity)

7 Habits That Define Our Catholic Identity, from a webinar by Bert Ghezzi, at ATXCatholic.com

I wasn’t raised Catholic, but I’m not a convert, either. My mom’s side of the family is Catholic, so I was baptized as a baby and received my other sacraments of initiation on the usual timeline. I never say that I was raised Catholic, though. We didn’t go to church, not even for Christmas or Easter. That just wasn’t what we did. Now that I live as a Catholic (with God’s help), and I see my friends raising their young children, I’m starting to understand what it might have been like to be raised Catholic. I hope to raise my own Catholic family with my future husband someday, but in the meantime, I just work on me.

Now, how to live as a Catholic: that is something I can do. I have managed a delightful relationship with Ave Maria Press (AMP) as a book reviewer for several years, but I also enjoy their Professional Development Webinar series. The name is a little misleading; you don’t have to be working (or even volunteering) in ministry to participate in the webinars. AMP even records each webinar and posts them on YouTube for later viewing! Out of my desire for a little spiritual growth (and the desire to clear out my backlog of videos to watch), I recently viewed “7 Habits That Define Our Catholic Identity,” given by Bert Ghezzi. If you don’t even have the hour to watch, here’s my summary and a few analytical thoughts.

Read them at ATX Catholic.

Wunderlist and GTD: Getting Started with Email Bankruptcy and Inbox Zero

I am not a GTD or Wunderlist coach or trainer, but I do like to help people. One of the biggest hurdles is just getting started, especially if you’ve heard that GTD is too complicated, or you’ve been burned by trying to use apps for GTD before. Maybe I can help. This will probably be the least app-oriented post in my ad-hoc GTD and Wunderlist series, but it tells you how I got started. Maybe this will work for you, too!

A note: Some people are dabblers. They think, “I will try this new app/system/process/thing to see if it works.” So they use it halfway, or two or three times total, and then they decide it doesn’t work. That’s not me. I am an “all in” kind of girl. I call it the “This Is My Life Now” Method. I said to myself, “GTD is my life now. Wunderlist is the app I’m using.” I gave myself permission to quit in a month if it wasn’t working, but during that month, I was all in. And I stayed there.

So, be warned: my advice will only help if you’re ready to dive in all the way.

Declare Email Bankruptcy

I use GTD mostly for my personal life, but I use a less-strict version at work, too. Unless you are starting a brand-new job, you probably have a backlog. (Life always comes with a backlog.) You have an old to-do list, or two, or three. You have Post-Its stuck to your desk, walls, and computer monitor. You have emails in your inbox that you read and then marked as “unread” because you need to do something with them, but you didn’t do it the first time you read them. Now, though, you can’t remember what it is that you have to do, so you have to re-open the email and re-read it to figure it out. I’ve heard stories of inboxes with 3,000 unread emails!

That’s not good. That’s no way to live.

The bad news is that you might not ever catch up, and all of that stuff is clutter that you can’t stop thinking about. David Allen calls these “open loops.” You are wasting time with every email you have to re-open and reassess. You have a note on your desk that says “Mom.” What does that mean?

The good news is that no one lets you forget something that’s really important. I forgot to pay taxes on my AmeriCorps Education Award one year, so the IRS sent me a strongly-worded letter. They did not forget. If any of those 3,000 emails is critical, you will get another email. If you forget to call your mom on her birthday, she will let you know.

There is really only one way out: declare email bankruptcy. Put every single email in your inbox into a “Backlog” folder. If you use Gmail, like I do, label them all “Backlog” and archive them. For physical to-do lists and Post-Its, put them in a file folder or envelope labeled “Backlog.”

Now, take a deep breath and enjoy the look of your clean inbox and clear desk. The Gmail iOS app even gives you a smiling sun as a reward!

Gmail at inbox zero says, "You have no mail. Please enjoy your day!" Thanks, smiling sun!

Sign up for Wunderlist and look at your big, empty Inbox list. Don’t worry; you’ll be seeing these beautiful, clear vistas again at least once a week. This is your life now.

Learn Inbox Zero

Inbox zero is a way of life. Your goal is to reach inbox zero at least once per week. This means that you will have:

  1. Zero emails in your inbox
  2. Zero items in your physical inbox(es)
  3. Zero tasks in your Wunderlist Inbox list
  4. Zero tasks floating around in your brain

Yes, this is possible. I’m living proof! (I struggle with my physical inbox.)

The simplest way to visualize this is to compare your email inbox to your physical mailbox, the one the U.S. Postal Service uses. Some things that wind up in there are fun, like birthday cards. Some are less exciting but very important, like bills. Some are things you just can’t figure out how to stop getting; we call that “junk mail.” I’ll bet you can think of parallels for things floating around in your brain.

No one goes to the mailbox, peers inside, shuffles through to get the fun stuff, and closes it back up with the junk mail and bills still inside. If you do that for too long, the box gets full and the Postal Service will literally stop delivering your mail until you go to the post office in person, with ID, and tell them that you’ve emptied it out. True story.

In GTD terms, any thoughts bouncing around in your head work just like emails lingering in your email inbox. Think of your brain like a gooey version of your email inbox. According to the cognitive science David Allen cites in the revised edition of the GTD book, your brain inbox can only hold about four items. After that, one of them has to go before something else can be stored. That’s why you forget where you parked.

The key is to get everything out of your inboxes and into a trusted system like Wunderlist. You will work out of that system. Not out of your head. Not from memory. Not in your email inbox. You’ll build a system, use the system, and work the system.

Practice Inbox Zero

I’ll use email in this part because it’s more straightforward, but the same things apply to processing your brain, your physical inbox(es), and your Wunderlist Inbox list.

From now on, you don’t “check email.” You process email. You will deal with every single email that hits your inbox as though it’s a piece of regular mail. Emails don’t live in your inbox anymore. They come in (something you can’t always control, just like regular mail), and then you process them out.

This is a shortened version of David Allen’s basic GTD processing workflow:

  1. Open the email (unless you can delete it without opening it, based on the subject line).
  2. Decide what to do with it. Ask yourself, “What is this?”
  3. Delete it, if possible. (It will be in your trash folder if you make a mistake.)
  4. If you need to do something based on what’s in the email, and you can do it in less than 2 minutes, do it right now.
  5. If someone else needs to do something, delegate the task by forwarding the email to that person.
  6. If you need to do something, but you can’t do it now, forward the email to me@wunderlist.com. The subject line becomes the task title, and the body of the email goes into the task notes.
  7. File the original email in one big “Archive” folder. Gmail makes this easy.
  8. Repeat until you have zero emails in your inbox. Then celebrate!

In summary: open, decide, delete/do/delegate/defer, and file. Move fast. It will be scary to start filing and deleting emails immediately. Everything’s still there if you need it, though. Even Gmail only deletes your trash every 30 days.

Aim to reach inbox zero at least once per week. When you get really good, you can reach inbox zero several times a day.

Stop “Checking Your Email” Constantly

If you have been “checking email” for more than 30 minutes, stop and do some other kind of work. Unless one of your explicit job responsibilities is to read and reply to email, you have other work to do. It’s called Getting Things Done, not Checking Your Email All Day. Open your inbox, and process to zero. Then go to Wunderlist and work from there. You will find all the work you have to do because something was emailed to you.

How often should you process your inbox? That’s up to you. The best of the best can do it just one a day, in the late afternoon. At a minimum, I process first thing in the morning, before lunch, after lunch, 30 minutes before my workday ends, and last thing. That last check usually consists of deferring everything to the next day. To figure out what works for you, try processing every 30 minutes. Adjust from there.

I can’t lie: it was scary when I applied this at my job for the first time. I made it My Life Now for a week, and now I’m never going back. It took my coworkers some time to get used to our new face-to-face exchanges.

Coworker: Did you get my email?

Me: When did you send it?

Coworker: Just now [or “two minutes ago,” “ten minutes ago,” even “thirty minutes ago”].

Me: No, I did not get your email. (opens Outlook, which I use at work) (discusses email with coworker)

But now I’m evangelizing them all about the glories of converting. It’s pretty cool.

Capture, and Work Through Your Backlog

You might also wonder what to do with new tasks, random task-related thoughts, or things like a honey-do list. Those don’t show up in Gmail. This is where the first step of GTD, Capture, is invaluable. When you think of a new task (or get one from someone else) by any channel other than email, enter it into your Wunderlist Inbox list or put it in a physical inbox tray.

As for your backlog, go through that in 30-minute or 10-email bursts once a day, every day. Start with the most recent emails (because those will have the freshest or most urgent information) and with any emails from family or friends (because they care about you). Truly urgent things (like a fire alarm) don’t let you ignore them, and people get angry when you ignore them. Once you reach items that are over about 30 days old, you can probably ignore those forever.

To manage and complete tasks in Wunderlist, you’ll actually be moving into the five-step GTD process. Discussing that is for another day.

Additional Resources

Sci-fi writer and Evernote Ambassador Jamie Todd Rubin offers some tips for how to stay at inbox zero. Skip the first tip. Boomerang makes you re-process email, and Mailbox is no longer available.

Wade Roush of Xconomy shares his story about declaring email bankruptcy. Don’t be scared! You can do this!

Gretchen Louise offers her own tips for maintaining inbox zero, including one for the Spam folder that I also use.

The widely-accepted originator of the term “inbox zero,” Merlin Mann points out that inbox zero is a state of mind, not just a number. Your actual work shouldn’t be maintaining that zero; just focus on reaching it more often than never.

The GTD VSG (Virtual Study Group) hosted a discussion on working from zero. You can download the recording directly or find it in your podcast app of choice. There is some great advice on how often to aim for and achieve inbox zero.

I really like the team at Asian Efficiency. They updated their recommended email processing technique to promote inbox zero and get rid of their previous folder system. The current recommendation is basically the exact system I use at work with Outlook (which has superb email-to-task integration).

Recommended Reads: 28/2016

I have been reading up a storm! I just discovered that Pocket has a bulk edit feature, so I can delete archived-but-not-favorited articles in big chunks instead of one at a time. I had one chunk of 73 items! Today, for you, I will share only seven.

pile of books

— 1 —

Title: 4 Questions People Will Be More Excited to Answer Than “What Do You Do?”
Source: The Muse

I really do try hard not to ask that early in a conversation. My go-to since I’ve lived in Austin has been, “Are you a native Texan?” There is so much Texas pride here! Living here has actually made me significantly more proud to be from Maryland. I want to play the state pride game, too!

— 2 —

Title: Why I Love My Invisible Friend
Source: Word on Fire via CERC

One of the favorite taunts of atheists is that religious people believe in an “invisible friend.” They are implying, of course, that religion is little more than a pathetic exercise in wishful thinking, a reversion to childish patterns of projection and self-protection. It is well past time, they say, for believers to grow up, leave their cherished fantasies behind, and face the real world. In offering this characterization, the New Atheists are showing themselves to be disciples of the old atheists such as Feuerbach, Marx, Comte, and Freud, all of whom made more or less similar observations.

Well, I’m writing here to let atheists know that I think they’re right, at least about God being an invisible friend. Where they’re wrong is in supposing that surrendering to this unseen reality is de-humanizing or infantilizing.

I love Bishop Barron. God is invisible, and he is our friend, and both of those are actually beneficial.

— 3 —

Title: How to Overcome Bad Habits
Source: The Catholic Gentleman

Introspection is necessary in order that we shall isolate the habit and see it clearly as a sin. The surprise we feel when others criticize some fault in us proves that we have not practiced introspection sufficiently to know ourselves. Some people are afraid ever to look into their consciences, for fear of what they might find; they are like the other cowards who dare not open telegrams because they dread bad news.
But introspection is to the soul what diagnosis is to the body—the first necessary step toward health.

More gold from Venerable Fulton Sheen—and it’s more than just avoiding the near occasion of sin (although that is one of his tips).

— 4 —

Title: 10 Clever Time-Saving Hacks (So You Can Spend More Time Doing What You Love)
Source: Verily

This is a listicle worth reading (or at least skimming). I do 3, 7, and as much of 8 and 9 as I can.

— 5 —

Title: Brian Nosek’s Reproducibility Project Finds Many Psychology Studies Unreliable
Source: The Atlantic

Well, that’s not what you want. This isn’t to say that psychology (or any science) isn’t trustworthy, but it sure puts a damper on the rallying cry of people who won’t believe anything unless it appears in a peer-reviewed journal. Blind trust of journals is no better than blind trust of any other authority.

— 6 —

Title: The Cognitive Biases That Lead to Bad Money Decisions
Source: Two Cents at Lifehacker

Two Cents is a great personal finance (sub-)blog. I don’t read everything, but I watch the headlines in Feedly. I was stuck under the status quo bias for my old cell phone carrier for longer than I’d like to admit. My only comfort is that it’s such a common situation that Kristin used it as one of her examples! And because I zero-balance budget, I’m now capturing that 50% cost reduction to use for other purposes.

— 7 —

Title: Kids and Modesty or, How I Got My Kids to Quit Getting Naked in the Yard
Source: Catholic All Year

I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to emphasize to children the idea that our bodies are for our future spouses. While I think that that is partially true, I think that it is MORE true that our bodies are for God whether He intends us to have a spouse or not. And I think that it’s more appropriate to understand that spouses become one rather than that they take ownership of one another’s bodies. So I think it’s more useful to emphasize God’s claim on our bodies rather than a spouse’s.

Kendra is the best. I’ve always found that “ownership” angle a little too close to slavery for my comfort.


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