When I worked as a journalist, I loved my notebook. It didn’t just hold my notes and interviews for stories, but my to do list items for each day and week too.
Granted, that may have been a requirement given it was a major tool of the trade. But as digital equivalents became more popular, and I switched careers, I used real notebooks less. In the past few years, I’ve tried a bevy of different methods and apps for managing my to do list. Recently though, I’ve landed on something that works for me and might stick.
I use both a digital task list (Google Tasks) and a small notebook. Google Tasks holds everything I need to do. I turn to the notebook each day to plan out the most important things to do, plus any meetings and other small items that need attention. I plan out the entire week the same way in the notebook. I pull out major items I want to get done that week and note them on a page using the same formula. I never break down big items, because that happens naturally each day. This combination of digital and analog provides the perfect mix for me.
So a day might look something like this:
MIT (Most important task)
- Finish accessibility review for new interface.
- Check-in with Steve.
- Check-in with Carol.
- Check-in with Lauren.
- Reply to thread on theme work.
- Look over data on customer sites.
I think it’s the physical act of writing the day’s activities down rather than typing them that makes it work better. I’m a few weeks in, and this has helped me be and feel more productive than most anything else.
Born two-months premature with many health challenges early on. I was a small kid who wore thick glasses and had a visible scar on my head from a surgery. My twin, Darrell, had a different fate. He didn’t fully develop because of the early birth. He never spoke or walked and required around-the-clock care. When my family visited him, he’d always light up when you gave him a kiss, a hug or whispered in his ear. From an early age, I had this real example that some people’s bodies or environments trap them. Their voices go unheard. Every time someone asked me about the scar on my head, I thought of my brother.
I still do. That’s why I care.
In my first web-related job, I worked for The Arc. The United States-based nonprofit serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I felt connected to the cause because of my brother, of course. While there, I saw firsthand how much harder people with disabilities had to work to be heard. To be included. To live. They always reached for opportunity, often limited only by the world around them.
That’s why I care.
When I was a teenager, I told my mom that I felt like I had to live for two. I still feel that way. Darrell died September 23, 2012. I think often about how my journey, my life’s work, wouldn’t be as meaningful without his influence. In a way, he wasn’t silenced at all. I’m lucky.
You don’t need to have a personal connection to accessibility to care about it as deeply, of course. You just need to be open to the world around you. What’s different? Who doesn’t have room to flourish? How can you help? Be curious. Grant the space for people. Help each other.
I wrote a bit about this story, and told it on stage for a recent talk. I wanted to share it here too since it’s shaped a big part of who I am and how I operate.
I started January 1st like I have the past few New Year’s days. I listened to David Foster Wallace’s commencement address, This is Water. You can get it in article form, book form or on YouTube (blogged about it last year and in 2015).
I love its message. Pay attention, Be aware. Support others. Every day. Beyond that annual reminder, I’m thinking about what to focus on this year. I say that instead of goals because “focuses” last year helped me make substantial progress. I set one professional and one personal priority.
Professionally, I wanted to be a better leader. I’m happy with the efforts here. I started working with a leadership coach, and it’s made a huge difference for me. I’m more aware of how I want to operate as a leader, how I actually operate and how to cross the delta between the two. I have to keep growing of course, but I’m more mindful of the journey, not just the destination now.
Personally, I wanted to read more. I did that in a big way, reading 22 books. I spent a lot more time reading more consciously rather than thumbing through feeds. I’ve gone back to using a feed reader for articles on the web. My favorite read from 2018 was Silence in the Age of Noise.
The priorities I decided to aim at this year skew more toward objectives. They’re broad, and I need to decide exactly how I’m going to work toward them, but having a direction versus no direction means I can start somewhere.
Professional: Thanks to a new professional growth focus at Automattic, all our designers wrote mission statements. Mine is:
David Kennedy works to make the Web fast, accessible and beautiful. He brings empathy and persistence to tackle problems customers and colleagues face that block their path to the future.
I’m looking forward to focusing on the craft of those areas, and helping others grow there too.
Personal: I want to find better balance in how I approach the things that require my attention and energy. I did a poor job of finding space from pressing matters in 2018. I let challenges consume me rather than me consuming the challenge. I read a fewbooks to help with that, and have one exercise (spending 30 minutes doing nothing) to help here. I want to make “doing nothing” a stronger habit so I can gain clarity faster.
Every so often, I read or listen to the commencement address, This is Water, by David Foster Wallace. You can get it in article form, book form or on YouTube. In it, he talks about truly learning how to think, and the freedom that provides.
The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the “rat race” – the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.
A new year starts tomorrow, so I’m going to keep up my tradition and set a few goals for the days and weeks ahead.
This year, I want to be all about focus. I recently read a post from Nathan Kontny about focusing, and its message was clear to me: set one priority, not many. The simplicity of the “one thing” resonated more when I discovered the Ivy Lee method for productivity, which boils down to doing the most important thing first each day. So these two approaches will drive my goals this year, both personally and professionally.
In 2017, I wanted to:
Write more: I set out to write more, both on my blog and in my newsletter, Accessibility Weekly. I accomplished that goal with the newsletter, sending out 45 issues during 2017. I also wrote 31 blog posts, with a handful of those being photo posts. Even though I didn’t blog often, keeping up with Accessibility Weekly on a regular basis was an important goal, and one I’m proud to make.
Run personal/productivity experiments: I ended up doing a few of these. The main one ended up being completing bodyweight exercises for about eight months. I fell off this goal the last quarter of the year, but I still managed to make a lot of progress. Recently, I also uninstalled Facebook from my phone, creating extra time for hobbies like reading and more fun stuff like playing with my daughter.
This year, I’m setting one professional and one personal priority. Everything else will stem from there.
Professional: The priority for this year: Be a better leader. I recently became the lead of the Theme Team at Automattic. So this year, I want to focus on activities and goals to help me be a better leader for my team. That means some leadership coaching, leadership training and more.
Personal: The priority for this year: Read more. Ditching most of social media on my phone has helped me find more time to read in the last month or so. I want to continue that. I read nine books in 2017, so if I can get to 12 this year, I’ll be happy.
Comedian Aziz Ansari on quitting the Internet, deleting a number of apps like email, Twitter and Instagram from his devices:
… Whenever you check for a new post on Instagram or whenever you go on The New York Times to see if there’s a new thing, it’s not even about the content. It’s just about seeing a new thing. You get addicted to that feeling. You’re not going to be able to control yourself. So the only way to fight that is to take yourself out of the equation and remove all these things. What happens is, eventually you forget about it. You don’t care anymore. When I first took the browser off my phone, I’m like, [gasp] How am I gonna look stuff up? But most of the shit you look up, it’s not stuff you need to know. All those websites you read while you’re in a cab, you don’t need to look at any of that stuff. It’s better to just sit and be in your own head for a minute. I wanted to stop that thing where I get home and look at websites for an hour and a half, checking to see if there’s a new thing. And read a book instead. I’ve been doing it for a couple months, and it’s worked. I’m reading, like, three books right now. I’m putting something in my mind. It feels so much better than just reading the Internet and not remembering anything.
I keep thinking about these words because I identify with them a lot. Ironically, I read them after clicking a link on Twitter, but I have been trying to cut back recently. Yes, that’s a link to me saying that on Twitter. I recognize this isn’t looking good for me right now, but progress happens one step at a time.
I’ve noticed as I’ve cut back more, my appetite for more purposeful reading has increased and my creative energy has felt freer. “Being in your own head” more has a way of making that happen. I started to walk and run more recently — I think as a way to literally walk and run away from the screens. I crave that space. I’m going to keep heading in that direction, small step after small step. Purposeful seems much better than aimless.
That was in high school – a long time ago. I tried many times to start running again, but it never stuck. I realized in college that what I missed most about running was the team I ran with. I couldn’t replicate that though, despite running in groups and trying different programs. Lately though, I’m back at it, and feeling more enthused about running than I have in years. My secret? Low expectations!
That sounds lame, but here’s what I mean. In the past, I’ve had my eye what’s next in my running program, not what I’m doing now. So if I was running during my first week, I was thinking about next week, where I should be and how I should get there. Instead of just enjoying a run or two. Now, I’m focused on how I feel, my form and getting to know running again.
Granted, Ive only been running for a week, mixed in with the bodyweight strength training program I’ve done since the beginning of the year. But it feels fun again for the first time in a long time. Two things that have helped are the book Running for Health and Happiness by Jason Fitzgerald, and his companion blog Strength Running. The advice has been simple and practical – just what I need.
I’m looking forward to seeing how things develop in the next few weeks when I have my running shoes on.
I spent most of the last year looking at houses. No lie! We bought one in Greensboro, and have been improving it ever since. I’m excited to make it our own, little by little. I do wish I could start over on the bathrooms from scratch though. But like I said, little by little.
At work, I’ve been tackling leadership roles more, being in that role with Twenty Seventeen and Components. I’m enjoying stretching myself there.
Beyond that, I’m writing and reading more, two habits I think will help me grow more than anything else. I’ve also started getting deeper into minimalism, questioning my purchase decisions with thoughtfulness and looking to live more with less.
I also began a simple bodyweight workout regimen for ten to fifteen minutes, five days a week. I’ve been at it for more than two months, so it feels good to have it sticking as a habit. I’m feeling better physically, and enjoying the fact that everything I’m doing can be done without a trip to the gym or lots of equipment.
I’m looking forward to a more focused year. We’ll see how it goes!
Okay, I get it. A blog post about a bathroom fan lacks the excitement you might be looking for in your reading on the web. But I promise the story of how this bathroom fan ended up looking just right has a few twists and turns.
It started one Sunday afternoon while I was on vacation. After some research, I decided I wanted to tackle replacing the semi-functional fan in our master bathroom. I say semi-functional because it worked, but didn’t do a good job of lifting the moisture out of the room.
I tracked down a fan at Home Depot made by the same vender as the current mode. It also fit perfectly in my current hole, about a nine inch by nine inch space. So far so good.
I started to take the old one out, and began running into problems as soon as I pulled out the old motor, unhooked the electrical wiring and had nothing left but the metal housing. I couldn’t get the thing out no matter how hard I tried. I didn’t see any screws either. So I did what anyone else would do. I started bending the heck out of the housing, to try and see what I was dealing with behind it. After fighting with it for about an hour, I gave up for the day.
The next day, I came at it with a fresh perspective. After bending the metal housing up more, I could see the problem. It was nailed to the joists in multiple spots, instead of screwed. That posed a problem because I couldn’t get anything in the space with enough leverage to pry out the nails. Plus, one corner of the housing sat between two joists, fastened with a nail. That made it near impossible to get this thing out.
After yet more research, and a chat with my dad, I decided to saw it out. To Lowes I went in search for a hacksaw small enough to fit in the space and cut through metal and nails. I found one and a few hours later I had the housing out. Success!
You might think I was close to done. You’d be wrong. Once I examined the duct work in the ceiling, I discovered it was three inches in diameter, not the four inches in diameter needed for the new fan. That meant I had to buy an adapter or “reducer” to make the everything fit. I did. Twice. First a plastic one, then a metal one. The plastic one proved impossible to make fit. The metal one fit, after I learned how to crimp it. However, it wouldn’t stay once I tried to attach the fan to it.
At this point I nearly gave up. I’d fought with trying to install this new fan for the better part of a week. I called it quits for almost another full week as I debated my next move. My wife showed incredible patience while we had a giant hole in the ceiling, used flashlights to find stuff and dealt with my indecision. She kept encouraging me though, saying I could finish it.
I believed her. And decided to replace the existing duct work for an easier fit, thanks to more advice from my dad and family. The old stuff turned out to be flume pipe, not flexible and not great for connecting to the fan. I had the old duct work out and the new stuff in in less than an hour. I finished that same day! Better yet, it worked perfectly!
Now, I’m plotting my next home improvement project with more experience and confidence.
I’ve gone through my own set of feelings after Donald Trump’s election. Sadness. Anger. Fear. Apathy. But right now, I’m somewhere between resilience and hope.
Why, you ask? History tells me that we, as a country, have overcome many extraordinary challenges. Having electoral power shift from one end of the spectrum to the other from time to time can be a good thing. And I do believe that people possess more good in them than bad. Somewhere in there exists a path to find common ground.
I’m not going to lie, I have my reservations. Many of them. I don’t believe anything Trump says. He hasn’t given me a reason to do so. His rhetoric carries much hate and falsities. His actions back this up. I want my daughter to grow up in a world where climate change is real and addressed. Where basic healthcare is a right. Where people look at her for her ideas and contributions, not her body. Where, no matter her sexual orientation, she’s treated with dignity and respect. He doesn’t support any of those values.
All that said, I realize that being white and a man, I’m not in real danger of losing any of my own rights. All the more reason for me do more of what needs to be done in a world where Trump commands the highest office in the land. Engage with people. Listen to them. Take action. Show empathy.
That last piece may be the most important. I believe it’s what many Americans have forgotten. Regardless of your political leanings, showing empathy matters. Its nature requires displaying respect for others and acknowledging differences. Those differences give our democracy strength. The thing that fuels my resilience and hope hasn’t changed because of the election. I still want to help accomplish the same ideals for all of us. Now, I just need to be more vigilant and work harder to help get there.