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“Chunky Yet Funky”: Thoughts on Productivity and My Writing Style

Chunking” is the idea that when performing recall tasks, like a 40 number sequence, people are better able to remember if they group or “chunk” the sequences together. This is how, to my bank account’s dismay, I unintentionally memorized my credit card number and can now buy things online without having it on hand.

This blog post is not, however, about psychological theories on how humans process information. It is about a different “chunking”- the kind that productivity gurus write about.

chunkyyetfunky

This brand of “chunking” means performing similar tasks in bulk, while your brain is in a certain gear. For example, when we’re working on Breaking Even’s blog, chunking is one of the greatest tools ever. In the morning, I like to get all my writing tasks done- that’s when my brain is at it’s peak. A lot of times this is just stream of consciousness writing (we have pre-determined blog topics set out a month in advance). Later on (in the day, week, etc), my brain will eventually shift into an editing gear. At this point in time, I go back and touch up whatever my brain produced in round one (this involves a lot of word-weeding, or translating things from my language to something more readable). Finding relevant articles is also a “chunking” activity, as is headline generation and image ideas.

Blogging is a pretty simple job to “chunk,” but it translates well into many different areas. As a younger kid, I used chunking while doing chores. When cleaning cars, I’d do all the vacuuming first, then go back and clean the inside with Armor All. It just made more sense to do it this way than to clean one car out, and then the other. It’s similar to building web sites. Rather than building one complete page (writing, add pictures, add forms and plugins), then the next complete page, and so on, chunking just seems to work better. This means writing all (or most) of the content, bulk re-sizing and uploading pictures, creating forms as needed, and so on. That way, things are getting built up together, and you aren’t constantly shifting mental gears (something I personally am terrible at).

No matter who you are, your brain will be in different gears at different points. I read this article last year when I was having issues with writer’s block that offered an interesting explanation. When you are relaxed and generally zen-like, your brain is better suited to creative tasks. On the other hand, if you’re feeling pressured or stressed, that creative flow gets cut off (this is what happened to me). When you get into a mental “fight or flight” zone, your time is better spent researching, outlining, editing, or formatting rather than idea generating or writing.

Chunking can also simply mean dedicating a set amount of time to each task on your to-do list. Once we started using Toggl this January, it became easy to see how much time each task was taking us as we performed it, and it made it easier to go back in the archived time logs and see how long we actually spent on certain tasks. Starting a half hour timer and committing to incremental chunks of distraction free time to each task definitely boosts productivity- especially in this day and age where it’s common to have at least a dozen tabs open at once in your browser.

What areas of your life- work or otherwise- could you be chunking?

 

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

Making the Most of Your Time (Without Going Crazy)

Maybe it’s the whole winter to spring transition, or the extra sunshine towards the end of the day, but it seems like everyone I know is over-committed lately (myself included). There’s a lot of hustle and bustle going on, with little free time. The more I try to remember and juggle, the less I remember and accomplish. Stress is funny like that (and by “funny” I mean cruel and devastating). So, how do we stay sane when we can’t necessarily slow our collective roll? Here are a few ideas:

Makingmostofyourtime

Have a system. During yesterday’s Tech Thursday, we talked about the benefits of creating systems. You can have a system in place for meal planning, workouts, scheduling- you can systematize just about anything. At Breaking Even, creating detailed documentation for tasks such as building a donation form and installing Wordpress, and creating intake forms for website design or social media marketing have made our lives so much easier. In meetings, we can consistently get information we need by following a formula. Before, if Nicole and I separately met with a client, there was a 90% chance we’d come back with different information, because we have different brains that prioritize different things. It’s more effective to have a comprehensive, documented system in place that keeps us organized. That way, we can get the information we need regardless of who is in the meeting.

What areas of your life could use a system? It may be scheduling your hair appointments for the year (a brilliant idea by Nicole) or creating “how-to” documents for tasks. It may take time to get the system in place, but once it’s underway, it saves you time and energy. Fun fact: it also makes delegation possible!

Create a list. And actually use it. I have lost track of the number of times I’ve written a grocery list and left it in the car (which is a bummer, because me going rogue in a grocery store is my budget’s worst nightmare). Similar to having a system, having a list of things to do a) frees up some mental real estate and b) keeps you on track. Prioritizing your to-do list is another helpful way to get through. Keep the most important items at the top. I don’t always hit everything on my to-do list, but I still get a huge sense of relief knowing that the one big thing that had to happen today got done. And I don’t jolt awake in bed at night remembering what I forgot the day before.

One to-do list system we use at Breaking Even is Asana. We can add tasks by project and set due dates. Even if a task doesn’t need to be completed by a certain day, the priority is established. Asana also lets others in the company communicate- Nicole can see if I’ve finished making a Facebook Cover image for a client, and I can see if that weird technical glitch was fixed so I can add pictures to a photo gallery.

Get help when you need it. Having a system and a list may not cut it. If you’re considering cloning yourself and/or researching how to grow extra limbs for efficiency, maybe you just need to take a breather and ask for a hand (a hand that’s attached to someone else, though). At Breaking Even, we have a few people who we ask for help in areas beyond our expertise (Marty from Studio 3 for logos and print work, Colin of Root Deeper for AdWords, the list goes on!). We also have a few other tricks up our sleeve. For instance, the intro clip to our old Tech Thursday videos was actually created by someone Nicole found through Fiverr. Fiverr is an online service where you can ask for something, like a logo or a 15 second intro video, starting at $5. There are hundreds of categories of help to choose from. In terms of asking for advice, there are always Facebook or LinkedIn groups (for creative ideas or technical questions).

One funny example (and an incredibly indirect inspiration for this blog post) was a fly-swatter Nicole and I found today while cleaning in Anchorspace. It’s butterfly shaped and bright yellow (so, pretty awesome). Nicole read on the handle “Swatter you waiting for?” I like to imagine that the fly-swatter makers desperately needed a tagline idea for their company, and made a few phone calls asking for advice.

There are only 24 hours in a day here on Earth. Make the most of them, whether you need to make a list, a system, or a phone call. And, if you’re paralyzed by procrastination (that whole “I have so much to do I cannot even move” complex), I simply ask: Swatter you waiting for?

 

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

My First Work-iversary

Or, a “work birthday,” as I call it.

This past Tuesday marked my first full year at Breaking Even. It seems like ages ago that I wrote my very first blog post (this little gem about Buzzfeed), and it took about three days before I had enough confidence to publish the thing. In addition to the three days it took to write it. In spite of the general anxiety of writing on the internet, hitting “publish” resulted in a huge sense of achievement. Writing about Buzzfeed may not exactly be my calling, but I felt that Breaking Even was my place. Since I am feeling nostalgic, here’s some things I’ve learned in the past year:

1) There’s more than one way to do anything. Fun fact: Once upon a time, I was a science/math person. The rigidity of PEDMAS and the rules of electron sharing was my life. But I didn’t really enjoy it at all, which is why I switched majors after year one of college. Rigidity and black/white thinking don’t really have a place in my current job, either. As an example, we’re toying with some online scheduling programs lately, for ourselves and for clients. At first it seemed that it’d be a “one size fits all” situation, one scheduling program to rule them all. Three weeks later, I’ve acquainted myself with three different scheduling programs for three different people. As it turns out, one size does not fit all. We’re not in the business of cookie-cutter-ing things, so if I have to learn about twenty different scheduling programs, that’s totally fine.

2) Copywriting is my jam. Whether it’s social media updates for clients, writing blog posts for various personas, or email newsletters- I love adapting a different identity and using someone else’s voice. It’s a fun challenge. In a way, it’s a lot like acting. My senior year of high school, I was cheerleader #2 in our school’s performance of High School Musical. I’d never been a cheerleader, but man was it fun to act like one (and have a legitimate reason for Stick to the Status Quo being on my iPod). Although my acting career never amounted to anything, I can still pretend to be a cheerleader or whoever else I need to be on a daily basis. I love the challenge of “getting into character,” figuring out “What words would this person use? How does he/she interact with the world?” Basically, I get to play dress-up, but with words.

I also get to play real dress up sometimes.

I also get to play real dress up sometimes.

3) The rules are always changing. Google’s rules, especially. Since I’ve started, they’ve already taken away authorship and Help-Outs, probably just to keep everyone on their toes. In addition to Google, there’s a lot of “keeping up” in the world of websites. My introduction to web design was so recent that I only had to know responsive- the old ways of doing things were never in my brain. In many ways, this makes my life a lot easier, but every now and then I see glimpses of those “olden sites,” relics that do not translate well on mobile devices. When these websites were built, no one knew there would be such a thing as a Kindle or Samsung Galaxy. Websites may have to accommodate something in the next few years that hasn’t been invented yet. The only thing we know for certain: nothing is certain.

4) Always have a back up. Of your website, sure, especially if you’re about to make a crazy update. This obviously also applies to life in general. If you have a goal, remember that just because the ladder breaks doesn’t mean game over. You can take a hot air balloon, hop in a cherry picker, create a gigantic human pyramid with your friends with strong cores, or…find a better ladder. There’s more than one way to reach a goal.
Example: This fall, I was trying to make an update to a website. We always make a back up, but for some reason, I couldn’t get our usual back up plugin to work. So, I was pretty sure it was game over, until Nicole pointed out that there are plenty of other back up programs out there. “You know, you don’t have to use this one.” Turns out, the site I was desperately attempting to update wasn’t playing with BackUp Buddy, but as soon as I installed and ran a different plugin, it was fine. My point being, there are multiple ways to do anything. Be prepared to be wrong, but don’t slow your roll. Just change it’s direction.

5) There’s no “I” in “Team.” Nicole and I were recently described as Pen & Teller, which went way over my head, so I came up with my own: Bunsen and Beaker of The Muppets. We aren’t polar opposites, but we each have different strong points (as you may guess by the example duos, talking is the most noticeable point of difference). Throw in John and Leslie, and it’s a party! Being able to interact with likeminded people with different backgrounds and abilities makes the days more interesting. I used to think that I’d do better working solo, but now can’t imagine being without a team.

This is how I like to envision our team (sadly, I think I'm Brick...)

This is how I like to envision our team (sadly, I think I’m Brick…)

There are tons of other lessons that I’ve learned throughout the year, but I can’t possibly fit them into one blog post. I can barely fit it all into my brain. It’s been a great year, here’s to Round 2!

And, in the wise words of Beeker, “Meep meep.”

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

Lift IV: Rocking 2015

This picture seems like an appropriate way to start this post, because, well, this past month rocked:

image2

 

So last time, I noticed some differences about Lift and how it seemed the emails and notifications were getting a bit pushier. It’s funny how when you put a question out to the universe, it always sends you an answer (though you can never predict when and how). My question from last month about whether Lift was getting bigger or if I was unlocking some sort of achievement was answered (via email, less than a week after the last blog post): Lift is getting bigger. I noticed that my emails were no longer coming from  Lift- they’re now coming from Coach.me. At first, I assumed it was something given my email address to and then forgotten about it…

Until I saw this article about Lift’s recent re-branding efforts. Lift is working on becoming less of a daily habit tracker and more of a coaching app. My favorite quote from the article comes from owner Tony Stubblebine: “We helped a lot of people floss, but I don’t think we helped a lot of people do triathlons…the harder stuff.”* The app is now moving towards a coaching style, so rather than going through each small task, they want to push coaching. You’ll be able hire people through the app to help coach you, but this additional service costs money. Eventually, you’ll also be able to have paid plans (though it’s unclear what this looks like at present), but the original stuff will remain available.

I took a screenshot because even though I'm sure this was meant to be comforting, it reminds me of "Every Breath You Take" by The Police.

I took a screenshot because even though I’m sure this was meant to be comforting, it reminds me of “Every Breath You Take” by The Police.

*Personally, I think “harder” is relative. I know a few people who would much rather do a triathlon than floss.

Anyway, here are the updates from the past month:

I got back on track with those gone-astray goals, such as trying a new recipe once a week. It also helps that I received a really fun cookbook for Christmas that is making the whole process fun and delicious. It’s also helping me phase out of fruit salad and peanut butter (a meal I enjoyed at least 7 days a week) in a way that doesn’t make me completely sad. I also bumped up the “Reading for 30-60” minutes from 3 days to 5 days and am bringing a book to the gym- instead of listening to music on the elliptical or bike, I read. It’s a pretty decent compromise.

And, I added some new goals: I’ve always wanted to do a headstand. I haven’t entirely figured out how yet, but the new Lift is going to help me accomplish this by the end of the year.

Update on the winter bucket list: I’ve had a few spontaneous skiing trips (still no downhill action yet). The weekend after New Year’s Eve (during my hiatus from running), we got a few inches of snow. And with the three storms we’ve had in the past week, I have plenty of powder to play in. No hockey game yet, but I did get to a Pat’s game in between holidays. There was also a general “get outta dodge for a weekend” hope turned reality as I travel south to Connecticut/NYC this weekend to reunite with some old friends, and probably make new friends in the process.

I thought this was kind of a cool "Lift"-esque quote.

I thought this was kind of a cool “Lift”-esque quote.

I’m not sure how the changes with Lift are going to affect things yet, but man have I got this flossing thing down.

 

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

Three Things I’ve Learned from Being Quiet

Do you ever feel that people are trying to give you a hint?

This past Christmas, my family gave me a couple books (not unusual), and the titles seemed to be a not-so-subtle plea: When Words Matter Most (not sure of the author) and Quiet by Susan Cain. Hmm, I thought, that can’t be a coincidence. My family doesn’t give gifts at random.

I’ve always been quiet- one of my teachers wrote in a college recommendation that I was “painfully shy.” It’s not as if it was news to anyone (least of all myself), and it’s something that I have to work at every day. But, to be honest, I’m just throwing punches in the dark, trying to change my personality and the way I’m fundamentally wired in order to become this “better” thing: an extrovert. It turns out, Quiet is one of the most helpful books I’ve ever read from a personal and professional standpoint.

Quiet explores behavioral, psychological and physiological differences between introverts and extroverts (most of which seems like common knowledge, but there are some interesting . She also makes some important clarifications, for instance being an introvert doesn’t make you shy or sensitive, although you’re more likely to be one or both. This book isn’t about “finding yourself” or “coping with you introversion.” It does offer some insight about different personalities, and, from my point of view, empowers readers to find out what they need. Here’s what I’ve learned so far from being quiet:

Quiet

1. Speaking May Never Get Easier. I’m never going to be comfortable with public or impromptu speaking. And I’m okay with that. That’s not to say I’ll never run a meeting, give a presentation, or do another Tech Thursday video. It just means going about it in a different, more comfortable way. One example: for many of our Tech Thursday videos, if I didn’t mentally or physically have an outline of the subject matter, I blanked out in front of the camera (my brother calls this my “freeze”- rather than fight or flight, I have a third reaction based on the deer in the headlights model). Although I’d grown used to the camera, there was still something short-circuiting in my brain when that little red “Recording” light came on.

Introverted people are more likely to get overstimulated, especially in situations such as public speaking or talk. And, oftentimes, they’ll end up leaving a presentation thinking “Man, I sounded dumb,” or “Oh SNAP, I forgot this one huge point (or five little points)!” As it turns out, that’s not uncommon: “Overarousal interferes with attention and short term memory- key components of the ability to speak on the fly” (126). The key is finding out what does work. This may mean preparation well in advance, a brief meditation beforehand- whatever helps you get in the zone.

2. Finding Your Balance. Some people do their best work alone, some require more stimulation, and others need a mix. There’s a certain level of self-awareness involved here. Personally, I’ve found that although I enjoy having a quiet space to get work done solo, I need to interact with other people (usually, asking Nicole for feedback on something, or collaborating with others on a project). Sometimes it’s going to a Business After Hours. Even though meetings and presentations to a certain extent terrify me, I go back to my quiet desk-space with a new energy that propels whatever I’m working on privately (and I’m fortunate enough to have a job that allows me to do both).

If you’re the type of person who will die of thirst before risking small talk at the water cooler, chances are you aren’t going to do your best work in an office with an open-floor plan and constant drop-ins. However, if you are the guy glued to the water cooler, chances are you aren’t going to want to work in isolation for hours on end. Finding out how you work best could yield some amazing results. Who knows- you could be the next Einstein…

3. It’s not a matter of better vs. worse, good vs. bad, or any of those opposite pairings (which is what I was expecting). For the longest time, I convinced myself that being quiet was “bad” and that I needed to talk more to be a better person. Quiet is a way to determine whether you identify as an introvert, extrovert, or both, without assigning judgement. Everything has strengths and weaknesses. This book was eye-opening for me in terms of playing up my strengths (patience, empathy, listening) in my professional life, and stress less about becoming something I’m not (a toned-down version of Billy Mays, maybe), especially regarding my professional development.

So, if you’re looking for a good read (or want to explore the world of introversion), check out Quiet. Worst case, you learn something you didn’t know before, like what happens to introverted fish in an unfamiliar pond (this isn’t a metaphor- there was literally a fish in a pond study in this book).

And, if you’re not into the idea of committing to a book, Susan Cain gives a TED Talk on “The Power of Introverts” that you can check out, too.

 

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

Tech Thursday: All About Goal Setting

As promised, this week is part 2 of the “Getting Ready to Take On 2015” series. Last week, you made a to-do list and an available resources list. Now, we’re going to use those lists to set some goals for the year!

First, you’re going to rank the to-do list in order of importance (and make sure that it’s chronological, too). Then, divide the list into quarters for the year. This way, you’re not overwhelmed trying to finish everything in January! Finally, take a look at your resources list. What items on that list can be used to cross of items on your to-do list and help you reach your goals?

We’ve come up with three scenarios as examples, and hopefully you’ll get some ideas along the way!

Also, this is our final Tech Thursday- in this format. Stay tuned for Tech Thursday: 2015 Edition!

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.
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