Get It Done

Lists

I can predict without fail whether a working day will be an exceptional one or not based solely on whether I make a list in the morning.  

I cut my teeth on the old Franklin planners, back before they were Franklin-Covey. I've tried moving to electronic task lists a dozen times since then, using any number of tools. The Handspring Visor, Tiddlywiki, Reminders, Things.app, Remember the Milk. Probably a dozen more that I abandoned and forgot within two weeks. I had a long, successful run with Entourage, which managed intermittently recurring tasks with a brilliance I've not seen since, but my calendaring and email needs have brought me elsewhere over the last decade. 

Yet I always come back to pen and paper. Maybe a pretty notebook, with thick, creamy paper; maybe a grungy Moleskine with stickers on it. And pens! Gel pens, mostly, or my beloved Waterman Audace fountain pen, one of my most well-loved possessions. Smudgy pencils only as a last resort.

For years, I've tried to explain to myself why paper works when digital fails me. It's not like me. I'm an early adopter. A technophile. A full-on digital native. And yet every electronic task system falls short for me, cluttered up with things I no longer intend to do, or things I can't possibly get to until next week, or simply ignored until the shame of restarting becomes too heavy to bear.

But with paper, every day is a fresh start, if I need one. Just... turn the page. Coffee, pen, paper, ten minutes for contemplation of time and energy and deadlines.

And not just one list; I have many. One of all my active projects, so I remember all the flaming swords I'm juggling. One for things I want to remember to do, so I don't lose track of them, but don't mean to get to today. And one, carefully curated, spelling out the shape of this today. Big things: writing a thousand words, a conference call, read and sign a contract. Smaller things: shower, water the plants, paint my daughter's toenails.

There are days, weeks, months where I don't make any lists at all. I get some stuff done in that time, surely I do. It might even be about the same amount of stuff, to be honest. I can't know. But those times are a bleak and hazy wasteland in memory. Those are the days I'm tired, the days I fritter away, the days I stay where I am instead of moving toward what I want.  

But even knowing this, knowing how important a list can be, how it can make or break a day, I don't always make a list. I mean to, of course, but sometimes I just can't bear to, I don't have it inside me to write one. A chicken/egg paradox, it would seem.

I've come to realize that my lists aren't about productivity or planning. Not really. To me, my lists are a signifier of intent and potential, and that is why I can't move to digital. Glancing at a screen pre-populated with the stuff I thought today should be for, all chosen sometime last week? This isn't the same fundamental action. It's the making the list that's important, not merely having a list.

Making a list is creating an arcane focus for the mind. It's an act requiring a summoning of will in the moment. It's not really that a list makes a better day, I think. It's that it's only on a good day that I'm capable of making a list.


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2012 Demographic and Salary Survey

Remember that one time in 2010 when I put together a demographic and salary survey for the IGDA's ARG SIG? Good times, good times.

I've been wondering how things have changed lo these last couple of years. Itt strikes me that the community could still use some fresh demographics and salary information, for the sake of comparison. So! I'd like to introduce the as-scientific-as-I-can-make-it 2012 ARG/Transmedia Demographic and Salary Survey!

It's meant for both audience members and for working professionals -- players, it helps us to sell in a pitch if we have some basic demo information, and pros, it helps us all to know what rates we're all charging so nobody is undercutting themselves too badly.

Take a look! Spread the link around! In a couple of weeks (or the end of the month or, basically, when I have a chance to do it) I'll collect the responses into a neat package like the last time. It'll be awesome. Let's roll!


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Lowering the Stakes

On Sunday evening, I took a deep breath, opened a brand-spankin'-new Scrivener document, and wrote about five hundred words of Felicity's first episode. I was very proud. I even pasted that little chunk to a couple of good friends, who said encouraging things. It was, how do you say? A good start.

Later, after I'd tucked my kids into bed, I fell into a... I don't even know what to call it. An obviously misplaced unhappiness winding its roots deep throughout my psyche. Not depression or panic. More like a blue malaise, a funk, a sort of diffuse but all-consuming sadness. And I had no idea why.

The last time something like this happened to me for any protracted period of time, it was during the initial scripting for America 2049. This was one of the most difficult projects I've ever done, and it wasn't because of ambition or production challenges (though of course the project had both). It was because it felt enormous and important -- I'd been given tremendous creative freedom to convey a message that was very, very meaningful to me. So I seized up. There's a lot I'm proud of in that game, and a lot I think I could've done better, but to me "America 2049" will always be shorthand for that one summer I spent totally wracked with anxiety.

Suddenly, Felicity is sauntering in that general direction. It feels like the weight of my entire future career is riding on the outcome of this one little thing -- this experiment that I openly admit has a great chance of not working out (but you won't know until you try.)

And it's ridiculous. Ridiculous! This is one thing I'm trying, and it will neither negate prior accomplishments nor erase past failures.  Nobody will measure the sum total of my worth as a creator on this one thing. I mean, you won't, right? ...Right?

So what I need to do is figure out how to lower the perceived stakes. Make it more about having a good time and less about attracting throngs of adoring fans. Rearrange my complicated ecosystem of neuroses to let me do this one thing by telling myself it really doesn't matter much. Because it is not, in fact, my one shot at Making It Big. That's the thing to keep in mind: there's nobody on the other team waiting to take the ball from you. Not one! So you get to take as many shots as you like.


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Summer House Cleaning Project Game

My house is a disaster, you guys. We're talking post-apocalyptic-grade mess. You could say it's because we have kids, but to be honest, not one of the people who lives in my house is a particularly neat person, as these things go.

At the same time, we're planning a family trip at the end of the summer as a surprise for our kids. (Shhhh, don't tell them, it's a secret!) So I got to thinking, as one does, about whether I could use this looming surprise in a game to create an incentive for the behavior I want: everyone cleaning up the house a little (a lot) more than they do today.

So I've made up a little spreadsheet assigning each room (and a couple of non-room places, like our cars) a point value (between 3,000 and 5,000 points, depending on difficulty as measured by how messy that room is today). Each area also has a person in charge of deciding if that room counts as being clean; I've spread it around so the kids judge the adult-responsibility areas (like the kitchen or my office), while the adults judge the areas where the kids tend to be messiest (like the playroom and their bedrooms).

For my littler daughter, we'll be framing it as stars -- 1,000 points equals one star. And I've set a bunch of point targets for each week. It starts at 10,000 points, and escalates by 5,000 points each week until the final week. We'll be making a scoreboard over the weekend; I'll show you a picture of it once it exists.

If we fall a little behind, we can also earn bonus points by helping to clean out the garage -- 1,000 bonus points per half hour spent.

Here are the rules, as I'm presenting them to my kids:

  • On Sunday MORNING, points will be tallied up before we go out for the day -- no later than NOON
  • You start with 45,000 points and lose score for each room that is still messy
  • If you are in charge of a room, you are the one who decides if it is clean or not!
  • If we hit our target for each week, we get a trip for ice cream! (or another treat)
  • If we hit 70,000 points/70 stars total by Aug. 7, we get a trip to the toy store!
  • If we hit 175,000 points total by Aug. 28, we get a SUPER AWESOME GRAND PRIZE!

This is really just an incredibly fancied-up version of a sticker reward chart, but with a lot more structure to it than those usually get. I guess we'll see if it works!


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Madame Zee on Hiatus

As a part of Get It Done Days, I am officially putting Madame Zee on hiatus -- both her Twitter feed and her only-just-hardly-launched advice column. This means that I'm giving myself permission not to post for a while; and more important, since I haven't been posting for a while already, to not feel guilty over it.

It's likely that I'll return to Madame Zee. After all, the purpose of Zee is for me to stay in touch with the whimsical-self-amusement part of writing. That's priceless. But I also need to focus my efforts a little more carefully, at least for now. Doing a dozen things at once, and all of them badly, doesn't help anybody in the end, and least of all myself.

So for now: Hiatus. It might be weeks, it might be months, it's possible (thought not likely) that I'll never go back at all. But I'm sure you'll do OK without Madame no matter what happens. I believe in you, peaches.


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