What do Big Rocks Look Like?

There’s an old story in the productivity world, about a professor with a jar and rocks and gravel and sand, and the punch line is that if you don’t put the big rocks into the jar first, there won’t be room for them later, after you add the sand and gravel.

Easy to say; we’ve all heard it.

But what do the Big Rocks look like, especially when you don’t really know what they are? “Set your goals for the quarter,” they say. “Figure out what you want to have accomplished.” Sigh. I’ve been flailing around with this for most of my life. I get by, enough, and I get stuff done, enough, and I have a body of art work and a boatload of websites and two published books to my name.

And yet, the question of Big Rocks nags. And more, why is it so hard to put the Big Rocks in first? Right now, in my life, it’s because I don’t know what they look like. I’m not sure exactly what they are. I have clues:

  • Need income, and that income ideally takes the shape of selling art rather than providing in-person services to people
  • Tons of art ideas to make, few of which will sell at a profitable dollar-per-work-hour rate
  • Know how to create an e-store, and to make products to sell. I have not found products that will sell, yet.
  • Good enough at social media, writing, and photography.
  • Have a need drive faith calling to help people solve a certain set of problems and figure out how to get on their own useful path
  • Know a lot about the limits of helping other people
  • Want a business like some of the motivational product companies, only one that’s true to my insight. I don’t know where to start.
  • Know a lot about the processes of making art and creativity
  • Have a certain amount of faith that where ever I am at this moment is just fine, and I can’t be anywhere else. I actually believe that Hell is wanting to be some place else. Try that on.

Anne Lamott said, in one or another of her books, “the more amorphous tasks–the ones that are not so crucial right at this moment but will ultimately shape your life into something worth remembering–those are harder to face.” (I think this is AL; it sounds like her; let me know if it’s not.)

What do you do when you don’t know what it is you are supposed to be doing?

  • List books that try to help. (Would do this, but you have them, you’ve read them, and you can find them on abe.com yourself.  Or read some of my reviews.)
  • List of exercises that I could do, if I actually did exercises rather than read about them. You’ve read those same books yourself. If self help exercises worked, there would be no shelf of self-help in the library, or in the bookstores.

People who appear to be doing, or did, work that I think is similar to what I want to do:

  • Laurel Burch
  • Jessica Nagy
  • Brian Andreas
  • Thomas Kinkaid, till it went south
  • Hugh McLeod
  • Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Austen Kleon
  • Anne Lamott, except she writes >> paint

I know a creator needs six things in order to create:

  1. An idea
  2. Skill
  3. Systems
  4. Materials
  5. A place to work
  6. An understanding of what “work” means and looks like*

The work feeds itself.  Sometimes you start with the big idea, and sometimes you start at the bottom and the big idea grows out of that. *This last one is huge, and constitutes a lot of what I write about on this site.

My big rocks for 2017 are The Illustrated I Ching, and the Inspirations business that doesn’t have a name yet. As I type even that, I see part of the problem: it needs a name.

To Roget:

Inspiration

  • Genius 466.8
  • Bright idea 478.9
  • Creative thought 533.2
  • Motivation 646.9
  • Encouragement 891.9

Consider also Usefulness.  Nothing.

Roget’s a wash.

But then I … look at a card taped above my desk, “I was hoping you would answer,” that was a comment received on a Quora answer last summer. Someone needed what I have to say. Boom. Done. Bought the URL. And from that, I know what to do next. I need 20 hours a week on these two projects, combined, and everything else will take care of itself. I’ve done this before; I know it works for me. Find a time tracker. Go.

(Honestly, this part of my business planning took shape just as fast as I could write this post.  However, I have been working in this arena since the beginning of the year, pretty much, trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the year.  Inspirations happen, and seeds grow better in prepared fields.  This field had been prepared.)

Levels of planning 

I wrote the post about big rocks and 30,000 foot views yesterday. This morning, I started thinking about what specifically happens at each of these levels. I thought there was a blog post in it, so I made a sketch of the collage of pictures that were attached to the post, and let myself think. What happens in each of these levels?

what type of thinking happens at different levels of planning

Thinking about what happens at the different levels of planning from yesterday’s blog post

At the very highest level, Blue Sky Thinking, is the name of the business, the understanding that if I simply put in 20 hours a week it will all work out. This may not work for some people, but I do know through past experience it works for me. My brain will figure it out.

There’s not much difference between the top image and the one below with more fluffy clouds; just a little bit more detail. This is where looking at what other people do helps me figure out what I need to be doing. How do they work?

When you get low enough to realize there’s a river coming up, it’s time to think about the specifics: what are the tangible, real-world challenges I’m going to have to solve sometime between now and having an income producing company. I already understand intellectual property and copyrights, for the most part. I’ll need a website. Already bought the URLs. What do I need to solve for?

Deep in the clouds, I need to trust my instruments. I need to have a pretty good idea of what I need to know, what I need to do, so that when I can’t see what’s ahead, I can be making progress.

When I first posted the picture of the plane sitting at the gate, I thought it was similar to flying on instruments, but this morning I realize that it’s actually more about going over checklists. Everybody connected with that flight professionally is reviewing checklists to make sure everything is okay. The pilots, the ground crew, the flight attendants: they’re all doing prep work, getting ready, getting things in place.

Flat fold stash, for weaving and sewing.  Inaccessible.

Flat fold stash, for weaving and sewing. Inaccessible.

For me, the equivalent is creating space for my look for my art, creating systems, documenting systems as best as possible, and thinking about how to create when I need to create reliably, and repeatedly. I need to set up better access to raw materials. I already know to work in series. With series, come checklists. I have most mine in my head, and they need to be documented.

I need to write a post about Doctorow’s statement that you can get to California from New York City with no more vision than you can see in the distance illuminated by your headlights. I have to straighten that stash out. It always looks different in the dark, but if you kind of know where you’re going. It doesn’t matter,. You can still make progress.

Finally, on the ground, in the fog, it can be pretty hard to know what to do when everything’s confusing and nothing makes sense. At this stage, doing nothing might be doing something. Meditation is usually good for me. I can also fall back on simple tasks like the Fly Lady’s 27 fling Boogie, when I clean something up. Vacuum, rake, mow the grass, do something. With a pretty good understanding of where I’m going, there’s usually something to be done in my life.

On a Clear Day

I live between two rivers, not far from two substantial lakes, one of which cools a nuclear power plant. As a result, we get fog. Not fog like San Francisco, but reliable fog in the morning when the seasons are changing and air, land, and water may have substantially different temperatures.

Today was a foggy morning. For a while, I couldn’t see the church steeple at all.

There's blue sky in the upper left, but I can't see the steeple.

There’s blue sky in the upper left, but I can’t see the steeple.

I know there’s blue sky above me. As the morning shifted, I could even see patches of blue above the church. But I still couldn’t see the steeple.

There are times, especially in the evening, when this familiar landscape looks completely different.

Time of day matters. Fog at night can distort a vision.

Time of day matters. Fog at night can distort a vision.

Given I am writing a series of posts about planning, the metaphor hit me like the bricks we make in this town.

What is my planning elevation? What is my planning point of view?

David Allen talks about the 10, 20, 30, and 50,000′ points of view; of taking a look at your life from different perspectives to see where you are going. It can be hard to know which one you’re at.

This morning, on the ground, I could barely see 100 yards ahead. I could, possibly, get up to 100′ and have a better idea of what was going on, but I still wouldn’t know anything about what’s happening at ground level because we are socked in. It’s hard to “do the next right thing,” and it can even be difficult to “do the next thing,” so I can only “do something.”

There are days when it’s perfectly clear on the ground, and I can’t see 300′ above. These are “do the next thing” days.

Clear vision on the ground, and socked in above.

Clear vision on the ground, and socked in above.

There are days when getting up to 10,000 feet only helps a little, because the path is completely obscured at that level, only for different reasons. Back to “do something,” or “do the next thing,” if I can manage that much clarity.

10,000 feet and visibility is even more limited, sometimes.

10,000 feet and visibility is even more limited, sometimes.

Sometimes, I can be at cruising altitude and know pretty much what track I’m on, but actual activity happens on the ground, and knowing the route at 30,000 feet tells me absolutely nothing at all about what to do next, today. 30,000′ views help me to distinguish between important and urgent and offer some general idea about what direction the “next right-ish thing” might want to take.

Cruising altitude, clear skies, and no information about ground level activity.

Cruising altitude, clear skies, and no information about ground level activity.

Sometimes, the 30,000′ view gives me some idea of what major challenges might be coming my way.

From here, you can see there is a river to cross.

I’m going to tie this to a separate post about calendar formats, and how I need to work with different views of the future to have a better idea of how to use the time and energy I have today.

Next right answer: if the view is obscured at my current level and I don’t know what to do, move up or down one and see what I can see from there.

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For Pinterest:

Planning points of view.

Planning points of view.

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Organizing my websites

I run four websites for my own business activities:

  • Red Tuxedo, where I talk about productivity and being useful in social media
  • Rugs from Rags, where I write about making textile art
  • Karen Tiede Studio, where I sell my Textile Art
  • Karen Tiede.com, where I write about all the other artsy things I do for love and fun including hula hooping

It’s a handful.

January turned out to be a month of clearing and decluttering and getting rid of stuff and putting stuff in places I could find it in a pinch. This mostly happened in my real life. I’m not done, but I have hauled a lot of stuff to the swap shed and the recycle bins.

February is turning out to be a time of cleaning out my electronic life. My digital records. I started my going through my pictures folder, where I have over 14 gig of images, many of which are duplicates or junk or not needed. I know digital storage is cheap, but my backup system only takes 125 gigs and I have exceeded it a couple of times already. It’s worth a little bit of TV time to cull pictures and reduce that total size if I can.

I found myself creating two and three blog post day the sites I routinely manage. I’ve learned how to dictate blog post from my phone, and upload pictures directly from my phone, and it’s all very fun and easy.

What it’s not, however, is “clear.” I don’t know where stuff goes. I don’t know what to call it. I don’t know where to put it. And I do believe that “if you can’t find it, you don’t own it,” and if I can’t find an article on a website, neither can you. All this content is not driving any business my way if nobody can find it.  Even worse, none of this content can drive traffic until it is published, and I had nearly 100 posts sitting in draft status at the beginning of last week, over 8 years of managing websites.

It became obvious it was time to align my websites, so that I could tell reliably where stuff went, so I knew how to categorize blog posts and where to put them, and so I knew what I had.

Three years ago, I moved my websites from one host to another, and it was a royal muck-up. Pretty much all the content got duplicated against three different sites. I  wrestled the bigger pieces apart, but the older blog posts wound up everywhere.

The first step in organizing was to cross-check each of the sites against the other, and make sure blog posts lived on the site where they belong, and not on any others. This was fairly simple. I displayed both two sites’ post listings side-by-side, checking titles and deleting duplicate posts from the site where they did not belong. This resulted in the loss of roughly 50 posts on each site. Progress.

Then it was time to make sure each of the posts was listed in the correct categories. This turned out to be much more challenging.

I have, from time to time, turn to the Dewey Decimal System as an organizing principle. It’s academic, I agree, I understand, and that’s me. Deal with it. It is also widely understood and followed, and reliable.

I have a paper (book) guide to the Dewey Decimal System, which goes to the two-digit decimals. It is about an inch and a half thick. A guide that goes to three decimal places is approximately 6 feet long. Google will not give me helpful results in asking about what category a particular idea belongs in. Google just sends me to Dewey Decimal references. I think there ought to be a better way, but I can’t find it. Therefore I have to trust my book and its index. This may be a bit of a force fit; yet I’m able to be consistent.

Revising blog category listings to be consistent.

Revising blog category listings to be consistent.

I had to start with the major categories. Mostly, I write about technology, and Fine Arts, although there is a little bit about ideas, so I cover the 000, the 600s, and the 700s. I use those as my major headings and then used second headings for the subcategories.

On KarenTiede.com I write about home ec. I used to write about sewing on that website before I moved Textile Art to Rugs From Rags, so I left those posts there. That they have huge numbers of links. (Today, I would put those posts on rugs from Rags, but I don’t want to move them.)

On Rugs From Rags, pretty much all the post fall under Fine Arts, specifically 746 textiles. There’s a little bit of marketing.

Red Tuxedo turns out to more challenging, because it’s mostly about business and social media. My edition of the Dewey Decimal guidelines doesn’t even have Facebook in the index. It was written long before the internet. I may have to go to the library and walk around the nonfiction section slowly, looking for Dewey Decimal numbers to know where to put stuff.

I am an amateur taxonomist. I enjoy walking around a large store, imagining the taxonomy behind product display.  Taxonomy is why you can walk into the grocery store and pretty much figure out where things are going to be. Websites ought to be the same way. I think it would be helpful if websites could send you clearly to articles you might be interested in.

For today, applying the Dewey Decimal System to my own content is going to have to do. It forces me to think about what do I write about, and where does it go, and how is any one of these posts related to any other.

I want all the days 

My new year-view planner arrived yesterday and spent the day rolled out on the floor being flattened. Before I went outside to exercise this morning, I pinned it to the door across from my desk, so it would be there when I came back into write.

Now, I’m sitting at my desk, with the calendar in front of me when I look up, and I’m feeling a discomforting yearning.
I want all the days.

Year View planner from Best Self.

Year View planner from Best Self.

I want all the days to be wide-open, unstructured, with the freedom to make art, or write, as much as I want, and I want it to be like this all year. Most of the time, I don’t experience this feeling as acutely as I am experiencing it right now. Most of the time, I don’t look at an entire year at one glance.

Perhaps this is why I have not done a lot of full-year planning before.

A friend of mine says, “you can’t drive all the cars on the highway,” when he talks about road rage. I can’t have “all the days,” not all at once, not all rolled into one.

All I have is today. Even less than that, all I have is this exact moment, 8 a.m., dim light, probably going to be a sunny day but not sure about that yet. That’s why I didn’t edit the photo to make it look any brighter. This is exactly what it looks like right now, at this moment, from my desk.

I think I need to look ahead more than I have been doing. I certainly can’t defend my previous planning exercises based on the results. I believe I am more useful to myself and to my art if I have some moderately clear idea of what I would like to have accomplished within a certain period of time. Certainly, it would be useful to look ahead, and know where my big obligations are coming, so that I can be more ready ahead.

And at the same time, I am not thrilled with this discomforting feeling of wanting to know how the whole year is going to be. Perhaps better planning, which in my case is any planning at all, might make it possible to have more days be the way I love them being: no makeup, no driving, no appointments, lots of art. Still, planning doesn’t solve for one day at a time, and living in the moment, and “hell is wanting to be somewhere else.”  I’m going to cut that header off the calendar.  There is no winning and losing; there is only today, right now.

Incidentally, I do not like the weekends being marked in bright yellow.  They could have been marked in a shade with much much less contrast.  Similarly, the black “day” boxes are illegible, and useless from here.  I can tell Monday; it’s the day after yellow.  Sigh.

I find myself wondering if this is more a planner or a tracker; time will tell how it turns out.

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Surprise! Metrics & Leadership are Social Sciences

I’m working on cleaning up blog categories across three websites.  In order to standardize what I write, I’m using the Dewey Decimal system as my guideline.

I’m almost done with the third site; still had to shoehorn posts attributed to either “metrics” or “leadership” into some category, and thought it would be a finer division of 658.8, business, under the 600s, Technology.

Turned to the index.

Leadership is 303.3, Coordination and control (the category I’m using), with several suggested alternatives including armed forces (355.3), public administration (350.007), and local government (352).  That’s more coverage, over a wider range of topics, than “business” gets.

Metrics is 380, Metrology and standardization, the social use of systems of measurement, including time systems and standards.

Interesting.

Ironically, “Taxonomy” is not an index entry in this book.  Classification is 001, and library science is 025.

Ramp Class

When Nigel had to go to the vet last week with what turned out to be a slipped disk in his neck, I had to lift him in and out of the truck three times. 70# of screaming Labrador is a hard lift. I remembered the ramp later, but he’d never used it and had to be shoved up it into the truck.

Can't reach the treat with two feet on the ground.

Can’t reach the treat with two feet on the ground.

Today, we had Ramp Class. Treats were involved. Everyone figured it out, Nigel quite comfortably.

After a few tries, Nigel decided the treats were worth the trouble.

After a few tries, Nigel decided the treats were worth the trouble.

If your dog is larger than you really want to lift, think about Ramp Class before you need it.

Running right on through.

Running right on through.

Wooster is not really convinced that it’s safe, but he finally figured out the only way to the treats was by running up the ramp.

Somebody needs a bit of extra encouragement.

Somebody needs a bit of extra encouragement, and Nigel offers to demonstrate again, in hopes of getting another cookie.

I wish I’d thought to do this before I needed it last week. Took two days for my back to be friendly to me again.

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What now, part 2

What do I know today? Thoughts on the Women’s March

It was much bigger than I expected. Perhaps it was much bigger than anyone expected. Oceans of pink hats around the world, in cities everywhere. Why were Australian women marching to protest Trump? We are upset.

There is a lot of discontent, fear, anger, emotional energy everywhere. We are not happy.

The Trump inauguration did not appear to be a particularly happy event, although I leave that interpretation to other people. If people who support Trump are truly happy about the next four years, it will be interesting to see how their happiness translates into action.

The question for me, and for all of us in the pink hats, is, “how can I be effective now? What do I do next, what do I do now, how do I take this energy and do something in my real life, in the real world, to engage that energy to harness that energy and put it to work?”

I put up a post in Facebook about knitting hats for people. I was surprised about how many women took me up on it. I can be useful. People don’t have someone to knit a hat for them. I can do that.

First pussyhat in progress.

First pussyhat in progress.

On a larger level, I know that I know more about learning, and taking action over time, and making sustained change at a personal level, then many people do. I’ve been doing this stuff for a long time.

I dipped my toe in political action = campaign support this past the election, and my candidates lost their elections. That’s not my arena. I’ll continue to pull signs the day after the elections.  That’s where I can be useful. My friend suggest I take training for Emily’s List. I may, but traditional political action is not my thing. I’m not good at it, I don’t enjoy it, and there are other people who do it better than I do.

I believe we all need to stick to our long suits. I know how to learn, & I know how to stay in the game, and continue in the face of crushing lack of results. I know how minuscule incremental change can appear on a day to day level and how enormously powerful small changes can be when you turn around and look back and see how far you’ve come.

I need to be encouraging women to make these kinds of changes in their own life, and to learn how to find a way to integrate and implement incremental change day after day after day for the next 1460 days.

There’s a nasty, mean joke going around about the Women’s March: Trump got more fat women out walking then Michelle ever did. It’s painful, and its true, and what are we going to do about it? Why will we walk for anger more than health? How can I harness that energy and stay in action day after day after day?

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Oh no, It’s one of THOSE things!

Wire file folder desktop rack.

Wire file folder desktop rack.

I’m cleaning off one of my desks. At the back of the desk, I found two wire racks.

“What is it?” I wondered. And then it hit me: this is one of those racks that supposed to hold file folders upright, at the back of your desk, so you can see them all.

Death on a stick. Look carefully: there’s another one of these racks, in smoke plastic, right behind the wire rack.

I bring these home, from the swap shed, from the thrift shop, & I think somehow, if I can see all the files I’m working on, I’ll be more on top of things.

Instead, what happens is that the racks get pushed to the back of the desk, or they get full of file folders that I never look at, and maybe they get dumped. They don’t serve their intended purpose, certainly, not in my house; not on my desk.

“Hi Ho, Hi Ho, to the metal bin we shall go,” just as soon as my local dump opens again after the ice storm shut down. That’s why I’m cleaning out today anyway–the ice storm. Can’t go anywhere else; might as well create some more space for myself.

One day, I will come to terms with my organizing style, and quit bringing these things home. That may or may not be now. Don’t make promises about what’s going to happen tomorrow, when I find the perfect matching set of desk accessories. For today this will go.

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Process Mapping Software

I’ve been testing process mapping software this week.  Will write a larger post about the process and my decisions along the way later.  I like Creately; even the free version has everything I can think of wanting.  Final test:  how does the link translate in a blog post?

These links shared from a free account; expect I have to upgrade (which I will do) to remove the watermark.

Sharing link (renders the map in Facebook):
Creately map of posting flow

Embed code (fixed image size, here 600 x 400 px):

Will share this version to Twitter and Linkedin to see how the embed code appears on those platforms.

More tweaks: need to upload logos for the social platforms.

Results:
Twitter doesn’t display an image.

Screen shot of tweet with an embedded map from Creately.

Screen shot of tweet with an embedded map from Creately.

Less on the new Linkedin.

Testing auto-share of an embedded process map from Creately.  This, from Linkedin.

Testing auto-share of an embedded process map from Creately. This, from Linkedin.

So, if I want the image to share to the social platforms from WordPress, I need to upload a real image, not an embed code.

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