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Monthly Archives: November 2017

(Organization) The Pomodoro Technique

Self Improvement 150One of the ‘features’ of ADHD is an impaired executive function, which is all kind of fun. Those of us who have a difficult time with our executive functions might have problems with self-motivation, self-awareness, self-restraint, working memory (our inner monologue and imagination), planning and problem solving. In other words, those of us with ADHD might have a devil of a time controlling our behavior — or even realizing it needs to be controlled — or developing the tools that would let us be better at it. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible, mind you! It just means that we have to put in a lot more effort to be organized than someone else who might be able to take things for granted.

Learning more about executive function was a particular revelation for me. Knowing that, for whatever reason, my brain simply wasn’t good at keeping itself organized allowed me to come up with ways to off-load that function elsewhere. Mondays this month, I’d like to talk about the various tools in my toolbox that have been helping me get more shit done. We’ll start with a relatively basic one that has turned out to be extraordinarily powerful for me, the Pomodoro Technique.

The Pomodoro Technique is a basic framework for managing time. The “pomodoro” (named for the once-ubiquitous kitchen timers shaped like a tomato) is an indivisible unit of time consisting of one 25-minute work or focus period and one 5-minute rest period. Each 30-minute pomodoro is generally tracked for review sometime later, so you can see how much work you actually got done during each pomodoro and adjust your expectations accordingly. Using this framework has helped me immensely with keeping focused, gaining a better sense of productive time, and ultimately learning how to properly plan my projects.

Most folks know that ADHD messes with your focus hard-core. Most people can drill down into the work they’re doing without too much trouble, but we have a tendency to get distracted very easily while also taking longer to refocus away from those distractions. The Pomodoro Technique offers a great way to push yourself towards focusing for longer periods of time; one of the major rules is that the 25-minute focus period is sacred. If something takes your attention away from your designated task for too long, you have to scrap the Pomodoro and start over again. This might not work too well for everyone, but I’ve found that holding myself accountable for 25 minutes of focus isn’t too hard. Sometimes, I have to fight to focus, but the period is just short enough that I find it relatively easy to commit to.

If you find you’re unable to focus for 25 minutes on a consistent basis, no worries! The pomodoro is an abstract concept, so we can bend it to our will on a temporary basis while we’re building our focus muscle. You could ‘shrink’ the pomodoro to a 15-minute focus/5-minute rest unit of time, giving yourself 3 pomodoros an hour instead of two, with an extra five minutes of downtime. You could even modify further if you’d like, to 7 min. on and 3 min. off. Find out what allows you to commit to focus consistently, and then work your way up to 25/5 as you’re ready.

Like everything, the Pomodoro Technique is a process that will require commitment, feedback and refining. But right up front it’s a great way to organize your to-do list! If you have 5 Pomodoros of ‘free time’ for a day, you could devote one of them to writing, one to reading, one to studying, and two to whatever you’d like. As you mark more time using the framework, you’ll begin to get a fairly solid idea of how much work you can do in 25 minutes of total focus — that’s where the fun starts.

I’ve been working with the Pomodoro Technique for a few years now, and I have a fairly solid idea of how much work I can do within each pomodoro. Generally speaking I can write around 600 words per pomodoro; I can read about 20 pages of text (I’m a slow reader); I can wash a sink full of dishes. Your mileage, of course, may vary, but the more you organize your projects through pomodoros the better you’ll be able to gauge how long something should take. For folks like me with a bad scale of time, that’s a minor miracle.

I’m so terrible at figuring out how long something should take, especially if it’s a more complex project or something I’ve never done before. This has gotten me into so much trouble trying to plan out my day; something I thought would take me only an hour or two ends up being the only thing I do that day, or I’ll grossly underestimate how much mental energy it’ll take to get something done, or almost every project with a deadline gets tremendously backloaded because I don’t have a good handle on how much I can do in the allotted time. It’s one thing to know that you have a 20-page term paper due in one month; it’s quite another to be able to look at your calendar and have a somewhat accurate gauge of how long it’ll take to write a good one.

So, now that I have a good idea of how much work I can do within a single pomodoro, it’s a bit easier for me to know how much time it will take to get something done. Take the Writing Desk for instance — I know that I can write around 600 words per Pomodoro, and entries here are anywhere from 1000 – 1500 words. That means, with an editing pass, it’ll generally take me 4 pomodoros to write an entry — or two hours of work. Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less, but that’s my basic expectation. Three entries will take me six hours of work; a 5000-word first draft will take me around 10 pomodoros, or five hours; a 600-page novel will take me around 30 pomodoros to read.

With that foreknowledge, I can take a look at my free time in any given week to determine how much progress I can expect to make on any number of projects. If I want to keep The Writing Desk current, I need to devote at least 12 pomodoros to it every week. If I want to make sure that I have an entry prepared for the Jackalope Serial Company (which I try to keep under 2500 words), that’s another 6 pomodoros. If I take a look at my calendar and find out that I have less than 18 pomodoros available, then I’ll know ahead of time that something will have to give. Generally, though, I can bank on about 20 – 30 pomodoros per week for projects when I’m really dedicated.

This means that I can plan when and where I’ll have each Writing Desk entry done and posted, or just how much time I’ll need to spend on the next part of my Patreon serial. I can estimate how much time it will take to read someone’s novel or story. I can figure out how to divide an Udemy course or Rosetta Stone activity appropriately so it’ll fit within a single pomodoro, then use that to gauge how much time it will take to go through a course or chapter.

The best thing about the Pomodoro Technique, to me, is reshaping the way I look at my free time. If I have 30 minutes where I’m not doing anything, there are any number of things that I could slot into that space; I could write 600 words, or read 20 pages, or make a significant dent in some other project I had going. Of course I take some time (maybe too much!) goofing off, but I rarely say that I “don’t have enough time” to make progress on something I want to do. I know better, because I’ve done better.

If you’re interested in adopting the Pomodoro Technique, feel free to go to the official website for more information! If the whole “take a course” thing turns you off, Lifehacker has an excellent 101 for you complete with a small list of the best Pomodoro apps for download. If you’re a Windows user like me, I’d also like to recommend Pomodone — it’s a wonderful desktop app with integration for a number of different to-do apps (like Trello and Todoist).

Let me know if you try the Pomodoro Technique in the comments, or if you have any questions about it. If you’d like to drop a few tips or pointers, that would be lovely too!

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2017 in mental-health, Self-Reflection

 

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(Fiction) Sergei & Bunkin #2: The Glade

Writing 150The Essex Freehold was on a large lot of land mostly covered by wild forest broken up by small clearing — some of which had buildings and some of which didn’t. The freehold itself was right at the front of the property behind locked gates; you either had to key in a five-digit combination or say a secret phrase to the chimerical gremlin sitting on top of the key pad. Bunkin had gotten them in with the phrase, then argued about whether or not Whitney or Beyonce was better for ten minutes before Sergei dragged him along.

Now they were definitely not lost in the young woods and bushy undergrowth a half-mile behind the huge brick mansion, according to the pooka squire. The clearing with the “problem” chimera should definitely be around here somewhere. However, Sergei was getting the feeling that they were going around in circles. The deer paths were starting to show the signs of their previous passings, and the lower branches along the trees bore familiar scrapes from where his horns brushed them the first time.

Bunkin was a little ways ahead of him, squinting at a map that had obviously been printed by his school library’s dying printer. In an effort to make it more legible, he traced the faint outlines in pen. This might have been a fatal error; if he had marked in landmarks that were mere flights of fancy to make the travel more interesting, neither one of them would have a clue. It was a hazard in having a pooka for a squire, he supposed.

The troll tapped Bunkin’s shoulder lightly to get his attention and then signed. What are we looking for?

The map says that we should have seen the unicorn trail by now, and that we can follow that to the glade. But I can’t tell if these tracks are unicorn or deer. And since the big trail splits off three ways over there… Bunkin pointed to the east, southeast, and due south, then shrugged.

The squire had a point. Sergei had never seen a unicorn before, but he knew that it was roughly the same size as a deer with split hooves more than likely. He would have guessed the unicorn to have a gait more like a horse, but that wasn’t a given. He stared at the three paths Bunkin had marked out and tried to figure which was which, but they were far too similar. Unless…

He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and focused on the Glamour around him. There likely wouldn’t be much — this was mostly new growth on private land, and the natural magic of the place would be drawn to the balefire within the freehold’s mansion. But there should be enough for him to spot a basic trail.

When he opened his eyes again, he saw Bunkin’s true fae visage more clearly — an upright six-foot rabbit with wood-brown fur, a basic tunic and trousers, and a hand-drawn map of the Duke’s lands. In addition to the oak, hickory, and sassafras trees there were others that shimmered with rainbow bioluminescence in the afternoon sun; squat bushes bearing, impossibly, mushrooms with red and white spotted caps and little button eyes; and tiny trails hugging roots and vanishing under the undergrowth. Sergei thought he saw something moving the grasses there, but looked away before he could find out what it was.

He peered at the three paths again. The first path, headed east, showed prints that seemed to dance along the dirt, with a crystalline glint catching the sun whenever the wind blew. Somehow, he knew this would be the way to go. He nodded in that direction and made his way forward, with Bunkin scrambling to catch up.

I’ve never seen a unicorn before, Bunkin signed to him. I don’t think I’m dressed right for the occasion. I hope she likes me.

When we get to the clearing, we’ll probably see Beyonce but not the unicorn. Of course, they might be surprised…but if they stuck to tradition, the mythical creature certainly wouldn’t want to have anything to do with him.

What? Why? We’re the good guys. Unicorns can be shy, but they know someone pure of heart when they see them. Bunkin puffed out his chest a little. His eyes, huge and black and liquid, were surprisingly effective at broadcasting a purity he didn’t have.

We might be pure of heart, but I’m pretty sure you’re not a virgin. Sergei grinned down at his squire, then ruffled his ears with a broad, heavy hand.

“Gross.” Bunkin frowned as he stopped to ‘fix’ his ears. “I’m still in high school, dude.”

Sergei blinked and turned to look at his squire. You mean you are?

“When would I have had sex? During exams? When I was working for you over summer vacation? There’s just no time.” Bunkin was exceptionally stone-faced, or maybe Sergei wasn’t good at reading the expressions of a rabbit after all this time.

Well…maybe we’d better let you lead the conversation, then, Pure of Heart. Sergei stepped aside on the unicorn path to give Bunkin the right of way. You learn something new every day, he thought to himself.

It only took them a few minutes of walking to reach the edge of the clearing. The trees parted suddenly to reveal a small meadow no more than a hundred feet across, impossibly bright with sunlight. There, in the center, was a tall, almost elfin woman whose skin seemed to absorb and reflect the golden glow. She was in a sheer white dress, ribbons of fabric floating off her arms and around her ankles. Prancing around her was the unicorn, its pelt as white as her silk, its horn as bright as her skin. It stopped as they approached, looking their way with a warning, nervous snort. The woman’s gaze followed. Both Sergei and Bunkin knew at once this was the chimera they were looking for.

“No way,” Bunkin whispered. “I will never understand why so many people get so lost in their head over Beyonce.”

“Hello?” the chimera’s voice rang through the clearing like a bell, though Sergei couldn’t see her lips moving. The unicorn pawed in agitation at the grass, lowering its horn towards them.

Well, Pure of Heart, you’re up. Sergei pointed to the clearing, and Bunkin nodded.

I’ve got this, he signed, then strode confidently out of his hiding spot.

“Yo, Bey-Bey, what’s up girl??”

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2017 in RPGs, Sleepwalkers, Writing

 

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(Review) Twin Peaks, Season 3: Parts 1 and 2

Entertainment 150Grade: B

I was beyond excited about the news that Twin Peaks would be coming back for a third season this year. For those of you who have never seen it, you missed a hell of a ride back when television just wasn’t doing that kind of thing. David Lynch and Mark Frost told a winding, frustrating, weird story over thirty episodes that drew from small-town mystery, soap opera, supernatural horror and surrealist tropes to create a TV show unlike anything else on the air at the time or since. Thinking back on the sheer bizarreness of the arcs, I have to say it’s a minor miracle that it made it to air — or that it was a cultural phenomenon for two glorious seasons.

Twin Peaks is the town where FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is called to investigate the murder of hometown sweetheart Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). His search for Laura’s killer draws him (and us) deeper into the town’s mysteries and the truly strange residents who inhabit this sleepy, Pacific Northwest town. Through dreams, visions, and odd connections Agent Cooper learns the horrible truth of Laura Palmer’s life as well as the terrible secrets that dwell deep within the forests surrounding her hometown.

The end of Twin Peaks was the first really frustrating TV finale I ever encountered; I hated the whole series for about a year after I finished watching it. But after that initial shock, I came to appreciate the show for what it was — and its influence has guided my storytelling sensibilities for over a decade since. Seeing Frost and Lynch return to the setting that turned the course of American serialized drama on its ear is a rare treat, especially knowing they’ve been given such creative freedom from Showtime, the cable network that aired season 3, otherwise known as “The Return”.

So, after 25 years, how was it coming back to this singular piece of television history?

SPOILERS BELOW…

twin peaks
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Posted by on November 1, 2017 in Reviews, Television

 

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