My alma mater — the one I got my business degree from a couple of years ago, not the one from a couple of decades ago — sent me an email linking to the U.S. News & World Report website, showing that they were respectably ranked as a legit institution of higher learning. While I’m more than happy to talk about the fact that I have a business degree, and that I graduated summa cum laude, I tend to be evasive about where I went, because it was an online degree program, and some people tend to be dismissive. I didn’t graduate with honors because it was easy. I graduated with honors because I made it a point to go above and beyond and wring every ounce of value out of that education process. I didn’t go into it looking for a mere piece of paper to wave at an employer to prove my bona fides. I did it to learn things that help me be better at this self-employed thing.
I’m still not going to say their name or link to them. At the moment I’m not willing to give an endorsement to any college or university in the United States until there’s some sort of reform of the student loan system. I can’t endorse anyone going into debt for something as basic and essential to a strong nation and a thriving economy as education. Living in Europe has spoiled me.
What makes this relevant is that online university made me a disciplined writer. I had to turn out an average two papers a week for each course. That included doing the reading and research required. I had to have a schedule and a process to accomplish that. It’s more or less the same process that I still use today to achieve my daily word count, turn out essays on a regular basis, and make progress on larger projects.
It starts with notes on the window. When we lived in Albuquerque, I had white boards next to my desk. I had a desk, even. Here in Finland, I work at the kitchen table and white boards aren’t really a thing. I’ve only been able to find small ones, and they’re expensive. So I write on the window. There’s a big picture window in the kitchen, looking out onto our patio, and when I glance up from my laptop I’m looking right at it. It’s for idea capture. As I think of thinks, I write them on the window with a dry-erase marker. I write myself reminders so I don’t forget appointments and things I need to do that vary from my routine. At the end of the day, I sort the bits and copy them where they belong (day planner, project notes, etc.) and clean the window.
Most importantly, I write the day’s running word count on the window. When I get up — to get a drink, to go to the bathroom, to pace the room while I work out an idea in my head — I update the word count. It keeps me honest. If I keep getting up and haven’t written anything substantial since the last time I got up, I know I’m probably goofing off.
The other key is a small cork bulletin board hanging on the wall. It used to be a Kanban board, with a lot of things on it. I still Kanban, but a bit differently, and I’ll explain that another time. The board is for standard daily tasks. It’s divided vertically, left and right. On the left, on sticky notes, are the things I need to do that day. Most of them are daily things, like exercise, making daily word count, and writing this journal. When I finish a task, I move the note from the left to the right. At the end of the day, if things are left undone, I try to figure out why and determine if there’s anything in my process that needs to be tweaked. Then I reset the board to the right.
I’ve tried online tools like Trello for this. It doesn’t work. My data capture and my task list need to be big and bold and in my physical space where I can’t avoid seeing them. Using Trello, or Evernote, or whatever, requires opening that tool. Ignoring them is as easy as not opening them. I have too much to do to set up and maintain a productivity system that requires extra steps, and that doesn’t support using it on the fly. I live and work in the kitchen. I can’t not see scribbles on the window and notes on a board, and that’s why they work.