February: 3 Brags and a Deep Dive
A Writer Bucket List Item, a new book, a shiny event, and how I used an app to outsmart my goblin ADHD brain. Brace yourselves; this is a long one.
|C. L. Polk||Feb 11||6|
So many things are happening I need a map to keep track of them all! It's so astonishing I can hardly believe it.
Achievement Unlocked: Canada Reads Turns the Midnight Bargain Into a National Bestseller!
Okay. In Canada, friends, and it was only on the list for a week. but I don't care, it still counts!
There will be a special Trade Paperback Edition especially for Canada Reads available. Preorder yours from your favorite Canadian bookstore today!
Soulstar is Coming
Coming Feb 16--you can still preorder, if you haven't already!
Now contending with a latent magical talent that manifested after Miles, Tristan, and Grace tore down the horror supporting Aeland's technological prosperity, Robin does what she's always done for South Kingston's Riverside--she puts her shoulder to the wheel and pushes tirelessly toward justice. But when Grace Hensley comes knocking to get help in turning the most violent storm Kingston has ever seen, Robin pushes to have the asylum imprisoned witches released immediately.
When Grace says yes, she organizes every windsinger in Riverside to clear the train routes to the asylums to get the witches home. But nothing prepares her for what she finds behind the high walls of Clarity House--or for who she finds there waiting for her.
I'm so happy to be able to put the whole story into your hands. Writing my first trilogy has been an incredible journey. And look, look how beautiful these covers are, laid out side by side:
Event: Ephemera Reading Series
I'm doing a reading with G. V. Anderson and John Wiswell for the Ephemera series! The theme is Friendship, and if you're interested you can click things on the Book of Faces, here!
The event will be streamed on YouTube Feb 17th, from 7 pm to 8:30 pm Eastern, and will feature a live musical performance by Caitlyn Paxson. It should be a lovely time--and I need to figure out what to read!
Something New: Random Deep Dive
Every once in a while I go on a tear and write a thread on Twitter. Sometimes I think, "This should be a blog post or something" but most of the time I just let the times I run my mouth slip into the deeps.
Other times, I want to talk about something that is too big to really write as a tweet thread, in all fairness, but I have held back on actually writing them. Why? Well because they're not tidily sorted into a single theme or mission statement. Sometimes I want to write about writing. Sometimes I want to write something about my personal life which is deeply political. Sometimes I want to talk about mental health, or something I think is really cool, or something that pisses me off.
“But you need a theme to write such things! You need to figure out a brand. You have to be able to talk about your writings as a coherent focused whole--”
Thank you, Perfectionism. You can sit down now. I wanted to write longer posts, and I didn't want to stick to one thing.
So heck it. I'm going to pitch the theme and brand and mission statement out the window. Maybe you'll get an essay about mental health. Maybe you'll get a recipe. I have no idea! I'm just gonna do whatever and call it Random Deep Dive and that's it, that's the column!
Tl;dr: this is something I'm trying out; let me know what you think okay here we go—
Task, Interrupted: When a Screwup Figures Out Why They Can’t Just Do It
If there's one thing that has been true of me for my whole life it's this:
No matter what my intentions are, I just can't seem to get my shit together.
I'm curious. I'm intuitive. I'm creative and I gravitate toward finding solutions to problems. I am obsessed with fixing things--for some kids that means taking the VCR apart to see how it worked, but for me, I was obsessed with fixing people's problems. I wanted to figure out the solution that kept someone from doing what they wanted to do or that kept them from healing a rift with another person or that kept them from doing what was best for them. And I didn't just stop at small group problems. I thought about flaws in systems, workflows, organization of resources, communication strategy--a massive pain in the ass, to some people.
But me? I was a mess. I could organize a note taking and study system for someone in an hour when I was going to school, but I was writing essay assignments on the bus trip to school the day it was due. I'd get a big project, and however smartly I started, I would just. Not finish it. I didn't remember important days, deadlines, follow-ups, or appointments. And I hated myself because I consistently failed at these things.
And I was incapable of being consistent! Sometimes a task would hit me the right way and I would put my whole back into doing it. Then I would go for bonus objectives. I would do the hell out of that task. Other times? If I half-assed it, that was a miracle.
And this was just life, right? I blamed myself for being a screwup. For squandering my potential. For having some mysterious hidden subroutine that would engage just at the right time for me to fail utterly at doing something that really mattered...sometimes. And then other times I was Top Achiever of Achievement Town. I didn't get it. It was just the story of my life. I had always been like this.
And then in 2020, it got worse. Way worse.
I couldn't hold a thought in my head for love or money. If I was trying to remember something I had to do, it was pretty even odds that I would forget it within sixty seconds. Less. If I thought of something, I had to write it down immediately. It was a race to open the right window on my computer and type it in before something happened. Anything that caught my attention, from a beeping notification to a phone call coming in just as I was about to type or a sound I couldn't immediately identify as a normal sound I didn't need to be alarmed about—poof, gone.
And then if I did get it down on a list, I couldn't do the thing. I didn't know how to start, where to start, how to break it down into small steps, which of those steps to do first. I didn't feel like the task was settled in my mind. I didn't feel like I understood what I needed to do...and so it wouldn't get done.
And then in November the universe basically told me to go get tested for ADHD. And I did. And guess what?
Yeah. I'm on Team Inattentive, with serious deficits in Executive Function and Working Memory. I wasn't a screwup. I had a disability no one recognized. I never got the help I needed to manage it. I had a problem that interfered with everyday life, major goals, and sustaining engagement across the lifespan of long projects.
But whenever I see a problem, I can't help but try to solve it.
Failed System: The Remains of the BulletJournal
I had tried to solve this problem before, though. I remember when I first hit on the BulletJournal system and read it with a growing sense of excitement: this is it. This is what I need to finally get my shit together. At last!
And the results were--well. I bought a lot of notebooks. I bought a lot of pens and cute little dot stickers for a page-edge classification system. I laid out my key and my index and my year at a glance calendar and my month at a glance entry and my rapid logging and my collections and--they turned into lovely journals where I took notes about writing stories, but I never managed to use the organizational tools. But it was such a good system! It was the solution! I'll just try again, and stick to it this time!
I gave up eventually. I felt so ashamed, too, because this was the silver bullet. A practical, simple, endlessly customizable way to log and track tasks and keep everything important. It should have been a no-brainer. It worked for so many people! Just not me, because nothing works for me.
But here come 2020 and I had a memory like a sieve. I couldn't focus for a single minute. I had so many things to do, but I just didn't know how to do them. These were my problems, and taking a five hour nap and scrolling through the social internet all day weren't doing anything to solve them.
…Except the social internet kinda did.
When I started recognizing that my lifelong tendency to screw things up were textbook manifestations of ADHD symptoms, I started thinking about my biggest problems and how they made doing things difficult.
1. I couldn't remember things.
2. I didn't know how to maintain a daily routine.
3. I didn't know how to handle a pile of tasks with different completion cycles, deadlines, and priorities.
4. Re-writing my daily task log bored the shit out of me.
Okay. Those were the problems. I needed solutions.
I needed to list everything. daily routines. The simplest little tasks. Appointments. Chores. Deadlines. Projects. Goals.
I needed something I could use as my secret headquarters, the dashboard, my command hub, whatever. I needed a to-do list to end all to-do lists. I needed it to list everything, but I needed it to not be overwhelming. I needed to be able to get as granular as I felt I needed on any given task, or go big picture at a glance. I needed it to remember that I was out of chickpeas. And I needed it on every single device I had.
There are a lot of apps out there offering just that, and normally I would investigate them all and weigh the pros and cons and deliberate on which one was the perfect one. But I was stressed and mad and scared and desperate. I didn't have time to fuck around. So I set a timer, checked out the first handful of task assistants I found on a Google search, and eliminated one if I had even the slightest doubt about it. When the timer went off, I would already have a winnowed list of apps to choose from.
An hour later, I had landed on an app called any.do.
Had I made the best choice? Was this the perfect app? I didn't know. But I told myself that I just had to get in there and try it. I would give myself a week, and I would start with one task, and if it didn't work, I'd abandon it and try something else.
So I made an account, and I put one task in it immediately - Brush ya teeth. I set it to remind me at 10 pm every day; the task never ends. And if it worked, then I'd keep messing with it to see if it worked for anything else. But there was one more thing I knew I needed if this experiment was going to be successful.
The Persistence of Memory
No to-do list in the world was going to help me if I didn't remember to use it.
I get gentle notifications on my phone and ipad, but I ignore them. I only use my phone or my ipad if I have to use them. I spend most of my day on my computer, so I needed a solution that worked there.
I knew a desktop icon wasn't beefy enough. I needed it to be persistent in a way I wouldn't just tune out. Any.do has a web interface, though, and I have my chrome browser going all the time.
So what if any.do could put itself in front of my face as just a natural part of using my browser? What if it loaded every time I opened a new tab? Is there an addon for that?
There is! It's called New Tab Redirect. So I installed it and every single new tab I open goes straight to my any.do list. There's my to-do list and a running view of my calendar. I change the page background every so often, so it's visually novel. I found the way to make sure it stayed front-of-mind.
Part of the success of the system is making it the first tool I turn to and it's there, seamlessly. So I have any.do on all my devices - android phone, ipad, and windows computer. And I've made it even more accessible with a household accessory I had resisted using for years--the Google Home Mini.
Here's how I use any.do:
1. I think of something I need to remember.
2. I grab the closest device and put it in any.do right that second.
There are more steps, but if I don't have time, that's okay. I did the crucial first step, which was write it down before I forget (my strongest ADHD symptoms are poor working memory, executive dysfunction, and keeping up an organized routine.)
No task is too trivial for an entry in any.do. I do not have to only record important tasks or worthy tasks or whatever. It's my brain on pixels. If I suddenly think of a task or an appointment or a stray question I have about a random topic or a plotbunny, I click on any.do and I write it down.
There are other steps. And they might seem a little fussy, but trust me they're beautiful.
3. Once I have the task in any.do, I have to decide what kind of task it is and TAG it. (Custom tagging is a paid feature of any.do.)
I have a bunch of different tags, and if I think of a new tag I just go ahead and add it and see if I find it useful. I can tag one task with multiple things, but I really want to have at least one tag on every single task, because it's really important to a step that's later in my process.
So for example. I have "Brush ya teeth PM" on my any.do list. I have it tagged as Daily Quests, Health and Wellness, Self Care and Beauty, and Sleep Routine.
4. Once I have tagged a task, then I decide when and how often a task needs to be done.
Brush ya teeth PM is set to repeat daily at 10 pm, Task Never Ends.
5. The last step is what list the task belongs on.
I only have three lists right now - Personal, Work, and Shopping List.
These are quick and easy to do in all the apps. I built my tagging system as I went along, building my system according to what I needed. And the tagging is key to making any.do the core command center of my daily life.
Tag Sort Story, or The Wizard of Lists
Why all the extra steps? So I can see what I need to do.
Say it's time to go to bed. I have a sleep routine. and if I press the Sleep Routine tag, I will see ONLY the tasks tagged Sleep Routine. It is an instant checklist that customizes itself based on tag, but also on frequency.
Today, I have the tasks that I do every night -
Brush Ya Teeth
Wash and Moisturize Your Face
Take Your Meds
Lock the Door
Dishes to The Sink
Charge Your 'Phones
and Stop! Hamper Time! (which means "take all those clothes you took off and drop them in the hamper by color and wash temperature so they're not on the floor.")
But since today is Thursday, my face washing routine extra step is Exfoliation Day, a Self Care and Beauty/Sleep Routine tagged task that runs on Mondays and Thursdays only. (Listen my skincare routine is complicated and we don't have time to unpack all that.)
I do the task, I check it off, it disappears. Did I take my meds? Yes! Did I lock the door? yes! Did I brush my teeth? ...oh yeah I forgot. Gonna do that now!
This might sound complicated. The reason why this sounds so complicated is because I've been using the system for two months and I have adapted and customized and filled it with details because it works for me. I literally started with one daily, task never ends reminder - Brush ya teeth PM. The rest just kind of happened.
Things I have tagged so I can see limited parts of my list with a single click:
Household Entropy Maintenance
Writing is Hard
Science Fiction Double Feature
Dr. Smarthome, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Google Nest
My dear friend Maire, a multi-disciplinary costuber, gave me a Google Home Mini for Christmas two years ago. It sat in a box all that time. I didn’t use it. I was suspicious of it. I didn’t really think it would be useful to me. I didn’t know how it would help me do things I needed help doing, and look I’m a science fiction writer, okay? I was brought up on AI gone wild. Get this thing off my lawn!
But I was trying to address a clutter problem with my bedside table. I needed a bedside light. I needed an alarm. I needed a way to play music. I got rid of the alarm clock I didn’t like, I installed a clamp-mounted task light on my headboard, and I finally set it up. again, if I hated it, I would just replace it, but why not give it a try?
…I now have two more Google Nest Minis so I can have one in the kitchen and one in the bathroom, because they solved a problem I had with my new system—what if I get an idea when I’m washing the dishes or soaking in the tub?
Answer: I just talk to it.
“Okay, Google. Add toilet paper to my shopping list.”
“Okay, Google. Set a timer for ten minutes.”
“Okay, Google. What’s on my schedule today?”
“Okay, Google. Play my Goldberg Variations playlist.”
These little cuties fit seamlessly into my any.do system. They filled a gap perfectly. And they proved to me that my new system has settled into my life in a way that is adaptable and particular to what I need my organizing system to do.
And now I’m going to check off “write newsletter post.” but I feel the itch to do something. I’m not sure what.