Back in the Saddle Again
I’m back into the productivity/notebook blogging game again. This is the place where I ruminate on my own productivity (and unproductivity) practices. My life these days is very library centered, take what you can and adapt it to your life.
I’ve been away for over a year because I’ve been busy. On top of being in my second year as a high school librarian, I’ve also was chosen to be an American Library Association Emerging Leader, where I worked with a great group of librarians to create a resource guide called Defending Intellectual Freedom: LGBTQ+ Materials in School Libraries. On top of managing a school library program (or trying to) and being a parent, I’ve agreed to do some interesting committee work. Many fingers. Many pies.
Mind-mapping the Overwhelm
To deal with some of the overwhelm of conflicting interests and projects, I’ve gotten back to a web and app-based mind mapping program called Mindmeister. This program allows you to create mind-maps to organize a project or your life. Mind-mapping online or on an app has several advantages over mind-mapping on paper:
- You can have access to it from anywhere with an internet connection
- It is easy to move the different branches of a mind-map to reorganize your priorities. (I’ve learned that it is good to put your most important or pressing branches at one o’clock.)
- It’s easy to add smaller branches.
- You can add documents, links, notes and much more to an online mind-map.
Also, you can switch from the large overview picture to zooming in on more granular details by opening and closing sub-branches. For example, the mindmap above is a good overview of the different aspects of what I’m trying to do as a librarian. One specific goal is to help Global Studies teachers adapt to new standards and a changing state exam. I created sub-branches with links so I can get back to the key resources that will help me get a handle on the shifts that will be involved.
Mind-map Meets Samurai Mind Notebook
Of course, now you are impressed. I am so organized and everything runs so smoothly. I click around my mind-map, clicking branches, collaborating with teachers, aligning standards, getting grants while forging new community partnerships.
Ummm, no. Sometimes, I’m a hot mess. I know that I really want to follow up on a grant but the dust in the library is driving me crazy. Sometimes I don’t know what I want to do next. Sometimes I don’t even want to look at the dang mind-map because I “don’t have time” or because it will just remind me of so many conflicting concerns.
One of the latest samurai “hacks” I’ve discovered to deal with this sense of overload, is to simply move around the online mindmap and transfer the ideas into a real, physical notebook in the form of a bullet-list. Physically writing down ideas, plans, and brainstorms from the mind-map is a good way to “do” something and silence the monkey-mind chatter of self-doubt. Even if I’m not dusting or collaborating, I’m getting my mind organized. Also, since I periodically review the notebook through the Samurai Mind Notebook method, I know that I’m going to run across these ideas strategically over time.
A physical notebook also has some of the following advantages:
- the physical act of writing may actually trigger memory and thinking better than looking at a screen
- text messages and notifications don’t come up while you are using a physical notebook (please let me know if they do)
- if you get ideas while you are writing down ideas from the mindmap on an app, it is often quicker to write down new ideas in the notebook
- you can look retro on the subway while everyone is staring at their phones
If you get a chance, play around with mind maps. They can be fun ways to restructure your brain and activities. Mash it up with your physical journal and supersize (samurize?) your experience.
Hey I’m back. I’m on summer vacation and I’m in a Japanese cafe overlooking a fish market.
The 2016-2017 school year was my first year as a librarian and I did not make time to write. I’m hoping to change that.
This summer I’m free from graduate studies but I’m still planning for school and how to continue building out the library program. Part of that involves playing around with digital tools including:
- Google Keep
I will write more about MindMeister and Google Keep because I think they are the most applicable productivity tools. However, for now I’d like to go back to one of my favorites, Evernote.
Evernote as a mirror
Just I case you don’t know Evernote is a service that allows you to create online “cards” to help you remember all kinds of information. You can create online “card” where you write or copy content, do checklists or clip content from online articles. You can also save photos, audio recordings, pdfs and so much more to store in your memory.
The only problem is that if you get the premium version it really becomes easy to stack up so many materials that it mirrors your information overloaded brain. If you are not careful, this tool becomes like an unpolished mirror–annoying and potentially useless.
Polishing the Mirror
When I started to notice the overwhelming amount of material, I tried to treat it my physical notebook and tried to review entries in algorithmic way. Looking at the dates, I would look at entries that were one day, three days, one week, two weeks and one month old. But because I could store so much material and because Evernote is not as easy to move through backwards, it simply became too much work. Evernote can be a great source of inspiration but if becomes frustrating to use it ruins its effectiveness.
Here are some steps I’ve taken to make reviewing Evernote more fun and smooth:
- Start with your latest entries and treat it like a Facebook or Twitter wall. My problem was that when I looked at my Evernote “feed” I felt obligated to “study.” Obligation is a buzzkill that hinders my creativity and flow. It’s still important to look over the latest information for inspirationand also to stem information overload. Obviously, if you are involved in some kind of pending project, you need to look at the most pertinent notes. However, Evernote displays notes and links nicely and makes it easy to scroll through when you are looking for entertainment or inspiration. Let the fun factor work for you.
- Delete, delete, delete. Evernote is a great tool but it is way too easy to add notes. A garden needs weeding to grow. Your notes need culling. Are they uninspiring? Have they been replaced my something better? Do they make you resist looking at your Evernote? Delete, delete, delete.
- Make a Change and Let the Good Stuff Rise to the Top. The way my Evernote is configured, the cards with the latest changes rise to the top. Make a little comment and the card rises back to the top of your pile. This means that this inspirational or fun idea gets the chance to rejoin your memory loop. So, when I find inspirational articles from my graduate program, those ideas get to get back in the hopper. The boring or useless ones get deleted and the others are saved for future review.
- Create a “This is Where I Stopped Reviewing Card.” Once you reach a stopping point on your card reviews, create an Evernote where you write down the date of the card you will bring to the light next. On the next session, you will spend some time gelling your latest inspirations and digging further back for more gold. Change the date when you are finished and this card will also float to the top so you can remember where to start reviewing again. Change the date on the card and will “float” to the top to remind you of where to start digging again.
Review your type cards with a fun and productive mindset, delete old cards, add to your older content and let it rise to the the top, and create a card to remind yourself where to start with older cards. These steps will help you to polish your mirror so Evernote becomes a shinier and truer reflection of your ever improving self. Try it and let me know how it goes.
If you’d like to try Evernote premium for one free month, message me here or visit the samuraimindonline.com page on Facebook. I’ll get credits to keep using Evernote for free and you’ll get to see whether you can use this tool.
I hope to be posting more often so stay tuned and thanks for visiting!
In my last post I discussed how mini-habits can help maintain skills rather than letting them stagnate. This is an important phenomenon but it’s also true that mini habits can help you exceed your practice goals.
Because of my mini habit, I am just there with a tuned guitar in my hands or a laptop in front of me. Though I might only be committed to two minutes of effort, everything is there for the possibility of more.
I owe a lot of my recent progress in this are to Stephen Guise, creator of the “Mini Habit Mastery” course on Udemy. I am totally paraphrasing him here but what he is says is that you have to keep your commitment to the mini habit small. Feel free to exceed the mini habit target but don’t make that the new and hard to reach expectation.
Lowering my expectations has helped me to exceed my goals for a few reasons:
- It puts the tools right in my hands so I can keep on learning or creating if I want to
- The minimal commitment gets me over the perfectionist death knell that keeps me from starting in the first place
- Once I start it’s just plain fun to play or challenge myself more
My language inspiration site AJATT shares a similar message:
Starting is more important than finishing. If you just start — show up — every day; finishing will take care of itself. In exercise terms, the trick is not to go to the gym, the trick is to get outside with your shoes on.
A mini habit is a way to get outside with your shoes on. Do more by lowering the stakes but practicing consistently.
As an educator and parent, I often feel like the man from Memento. I’m responding to a hundred requests in a day and by the end of the day I can’t even remember my own name.
I know I keep harping about the Chains.cc app. I promise you that I’m not receiving kickbacks. (Though I would love it if this blog was self-sustaining.).
Chains.cc just works because I need something to remind myself of the things I want to accomplish for myself: learn to play guitar, write, speak or understand a few languages, be semi-physically and financially fit, and become a better librarian.
After 69 days I can honestly say the chain apps is starting to work for me. The way it works is simple. If I perform a mini habit I check the habit off on the app. When I do this it tells me how long my chain is.
If I turn my phone on it’s side the app gives me a visual of how long I’ve sustained each habit. Practiticing guitar at least two minutes a day extends my fretboard. Writing at least five minutes a day extends an ongoing bookshelf. At least five minutes a day extends my running track.
It’s gotten to the point where I feel so rewarded by extending my streak that I dread having a gap in my picture. So sometimes I find myself doing five minutes of stretching rather than having a gap in exercise streak. Because I keep my tracked habits to a minimum. There is no forgetting.
The great thing is that I am getting results. I am not ripped but my muscles are more toned. Every other day I use the Zen Challenge app to do more push ups. Currently I am up to 200. I’m learning more guitar and I’m blogging on a more consistent basis.
I’m also using the Chain.cc app to work on a negative habit. I was finding that my craft beer hobby left me a little sluggish and also a little fat. I decided to create a “Buzz Free and Positive” habit where I give myself credit for not having a beer. After thirty days, I will celebrate with a craft beer. Or two.
I think the Chains.cc app works for me for a few reasons:
- The choice is binary. Either I did the habit that day or I didn’t.
- The simple visuals make it hard to forget and fun to accomplish mini habits
- The habits are in so small doses that it’s not impossible to accomplish small but consistent wins every day
But in the end I think the biggest benefit of a simple but colorful app like Chains is that it helps me fight against forgetting. The responsibilities and craziness of the day may threaten to erase good habit building but the app keeps me building every day. Don’t forget to habit.
I’ve let library books pile up again. I finished a nice graphic novel memoir called “Relish” that was recommended by the podcast Librarians Assemble.
But I also have a small little pile of books recommended by online business folks on Patrick Flynn’s program, “15 Entrepreneurs Answer: ‘What I Wish I’d Known Before I Started My Own Business.'” These books must be pretty popular because they are all on hold and I can’t renew them.
“The Compound Effect” is the most accesible. Though I’ve skimmed rather than read each sentence carefully, this book hits home the message of the power of habits.
Though I found some of his metaphors and examples tiring, Darren Hardy’s message of the power of daily habits and decisions affirms what I’m trying to do with habits lately. Continue reading »
I was stumbling through the Internet and landed on Bellwether Friends, a fun podcast with two librarians who also discuss pop culture. After twenty eight minutes of the various versions of Strek Trek, Bellwether friends discussed bullet journaling.
Bullet journaling is an increasingly popular way of keeping a notebook that emphasizes writing in bullets instead of complete sentences and combines to-do lists, calendar planning, or whatever you want to plan out in your life. Take a listen to the podcast. Start at minute 29 if you want to skip the Star Trek material.
Bellwether Friends offers some really valuable links that explain bullet journaling:
Some takeaways that I found valuable:
- A physical journal offers a tactile experience that some people find key to retaining memories.
- Even though there are many ways to gather notes, images and data digitally, putting it on paper means you have to make a commitment to decide what is important.
- Physical journaling offers a great excuse to use paper notebooks that might have piled up in your life recently.
If you take a look at the bullet journal articles dont be worried about how pretty everything looks. Look at the rules but forget them too. I would tell you the same thing about my Samurai Mind Notebook too. I don’t review my notebook every day but when I do it is good.
Physical notebooks are some of the best way to capture your dreams, hopes, ideas and practical information. Make your own rules and get physical. Get outlaw. Put a bullet through your journal.
I’m on the 23rd day of using Chains app to establish mini habits. Everyday I do something small for six things that I am trying to make life-long habits: learning languages, playing guitar, becoming a skillful librarian, getting in shape, increasing my financial strength and writing. I’m noticing a few things:
- Committing to just a little bit has made helped me take my learning just a little bit further. For example my goal to sustain my chain in Iknow (an app I use to learn Japanese but can also be used for English and Chinese) just takes one minute a day. But once I’m on the app I often continue because it’s so easy. It’s also fun because the app has built in incentives such such as weekly targets.
- It’s easier to remember where I’ve been and keep from being discouraged. I’m traveling and hanging out in Japan. sometimes being busy makes it hard to keep up with my habits. But if I really remember how small my mini-habit commitment,is I can just keep moving. Momentum is my friend. For example, when I am travelling with I am not around a guitar. However, I can finger and practice chords and isolate the ones that aren’t natural to me.
- More of my toolsーーguitars, webpages, notebook pages–are all more easily accessible because I do my habits much more frequently.
- Momentum is on my side. For example,my only commitment to writing is five minutes a day. However, since I’m on the page with all my tools out it is often nor problem and even fun to keep going. However it is important to note that five minutes of sustaining a chain is a Yuuuge victory to be celebrated with another day on the chains,cc app.
I’m going to leave it here. As always the proof in this system will come once school starts up again. However, the time commitments are so small it looks like I can succeed every day.
If you would like to master the chain of mini habits check out the course called “Mini Habit Mastery: The Scientific Way to Change Your Habits” on Udemy. If you would like to support this blog, please hit on the Udemy link on the right side of this page and search for the course or pursue your other samurai learning needs. I will get a small commission that will help support me Samurai Mind. Enjoy!
It’s been an app-y summer. I’ve finished graduate school and though I am preparing to start a new career as a school librarian, there aren’t as many looming deadlines and forced readings as last year. I’ve installed a few apps and I’m rolling with them:
- Simply-e–which allows you to use your New York public library card to borrow books to read on my tablet
- Epic–to get online picture books for my daughter
- Sworkit—provides a variety of workouts without a gym
- Udemy–an app for learning new skills online from various content providers
- Chains–an app that lets you track and maintain new habits
Using the Udemy website and app I’ve been watching the “Mini Habits Mastery” course on Udemy. In short, this course explains that in order to create new positive habits you need to go teeny tiny and small. (Thanks to Rob Schwarz, a friend and an NLP trainer who suggested the course. You can reach out to him at email@example.com for more cool ideas).
The course has been worth it to me even though I’ve been mostly listening to it on my walks in Japan as opposed to watching the video content. It’s been worth the price because it has allowed me to jump start some habits and think about how to maintain them. The course itself really digs in deep in an informative and entertaining way so check it out.
However, the main point I’ve gotten from the course is that you have to go infinitely small to develop habits that you want to sustain you. For example, if you want to get in shape, set the goal of doing one push up every day. If you want to write, set a goal of writing fifty words a day.
The Mini Habits course does a much better job of explaining why you would want to do this. However, here is my understanding of the power of mini-habits:
- setting super-small goals and actually being able to do it every day ingrains life-long habits that can transform your life
- tiny, do-able habits get you on the page, to the gym and lead to increased forward momentum
- mini-habits encourage “bonus reps”and often lead to exceeding mini-habits
- Mini habits help you to insure you have your “tools” out for further creation…my mini-habit may be to out the guitar in my hands for two minutes but it puts me in the position of playing more if I want to
I have game-ified the Mini Habit process with Chains.cc, an app that lets you track your habits and try to create chains. Every day that you practice your habit you swipe to the left on your the app and create a new link in the ongoing chain
When you turn your phone sideways you can see the chain of habits you are creating with cute images.
So far I haven’t broken a chain because it would be so sad to break the visual picture. What’s more important is that I’ve gained some momentum on goals that have seemed formidable. I signed up for some Udemy guitar courses and asked have practiced at least two minutes a day. It’s just two minutes so why not keep the chain going?
So far I’ve noticed some powerful advantages to this chains and mini-habit fusion:
- It’s fun. Because the daily goals are very low stake it’s easier to have s feeling of success at the end of the day.
- Momentum leads to “bonus reps” as the authors of Mini Habits call it. If I have the guitar out to do my two minutes it’s easier to do more. The mini habits author explains not to secretly raise the bar because it’s the mini aspect of this system that makes it work.
- The chain effect makes it harder to forget where I was, whether it is the latest blog idea or the names of te guitar strings.
So far it’s only been a week but it’s been a quiet but powerful way to change up my summer. Hope you will join me. Become part of the chain gang.
I’m in Japan with a suitcase full of notebooks and professional literature. I am on a dump and slash mission. I’m here for thirty days and I hope to return without any of the notebooks and professional literature that I crammed into my suit case. Sometimes you need to raze a village to save a child.
First a little back story. I basically stopped updating Samurai Mind Online when I received a scholarship to study to become a librarian two years ago. My courses were online at Syracuse University but that doesn’t mean that it was a piece of cake. In addition to my full-time job, I was also elected the union representative for my school and continued to be a dad of two young children.
As the various projects and demands piled up, I found that I had a growing mound of professional literature and my notebooks piling up. This pile is a potential treasure pile but it’s sheer size was a major de-motivator. It created falling hazards on my desk that threatened to bury my children alive. As an organizational samurai I’ve now realized that you have to raze a village to save a child.In addition to my library journals, I’ve brought a bunch of my notebooks that are due for review. However, I’ve decided that instead of dating the entries and reviewing methodically that I will review at random and not date any of the pages. The only effort I will expend is copying very interesting entries by hand into my new notebook or in the case of longer entries I use CamScanner to turn the pages into PDFs which I then upload to my Evernote account.
I have a built in incentive. The luggage will have room for more goodies to bring back from Japan. Plus, my wife won’t kill me. My luggage is not all my own. I moonlight as a mule of Japanese stationary, house hold goods, and snacks for my wife.
This is just a reminder that even if you have a system sometimes what really needs to happen is to have a purge. I could have carefully dated and reviewed all of my notebooks but they had built up to such a big pile that it would have just led to resentment, resistance and possibly an even bigger pile leading to more resentment and resistance.
So this is just a friendly reminder that if you are feeling overwhelmed by the “pile” maybe what you need is a celebration around the pyre of letting things go. You need to raze a village to save the child.