Thursday, February 15, 2007

20,000 ft Review: Responsibilities

A part of the GTD system at the 20,000 ft level is the areas of responsibility review.

I have been trying different ways to get my head around all of the areas of my life. I originally tried just a list on a 4 x 6 index card, but that wasn't visual enough and it didn't really allow me to organise it how I wanted. So I decided that I would try a MindMap. I used Mindjet MindManager to create a mindmap with just "My Life" in the middle. Then I filled in the large areas, such as school, work, and personal. I listed each area of responsibility in its appropriate category and used the Callout bubble to fill in details. Lastly, I used the relationship lines to connect things that were related.

Here is my completed Map:

Now, in order to do my responsibility review:

  1. I fire up my Mindmap
  2. Add any new / edit any old areas of responsibility
  3. Make sure that all of my areas of responsibility are being covered by the projects that I have on my projects list.
How easy is that!

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Living on $900 a month

I just finished reading an article about Surviving (and Thriving) on $12,000 a Year. It was an article about someone who went back to school at the age of 48 and has to be extra-frugal to get by. The article caught my eye because I am currently living in a similar situation. I am a student and my monthly income is $900. The honest truth is that I don't live that frugally.

So how can I do this? Well first let's look at some expenses that I don't have to cover:

  • Tuition - I am on a nearly full grant and the rest is taken care of by loans and my parents.
  • Insurance - Health is tied in with school costs. And I don't have rental insurance.
  • Car - I don't have to pay for my car except for gas. Although, to me this is a slight non-issue because I would be perfectly fine without a car. I just would not have one if I had to pay for it.
So what do I pay?
  • I pay $530 per month in rent. It is a one bedroom 700 sq-ft apartment that I don't share.
  • I pay for Internet. This is $25 per month.
  • I pay for my electricity and gas. This varies per month but it is usually around $45 for both. (Although during November and December, I paid $27 per month for both)
  • I have a cell phone bill of $40 per month. It is the unlimited data/voice/txt plan for my Treo 700p.
So where does that leave me?
After rent, Internet, phone and utilities, I have $260 left over for a month of food, entertainment and other living expenses. At the end of the month, what money I have left over, I put in saving. I have built up a savings of over $1000 in about a year.

I do pretty good for $900 a month. How do I do it without being ultra-frugal?
  • I take pride in helping to save the environment by not wasting electricity.
    • I unplug my appliances when they are not in use. (Sleep mode is a killer). The only appliance plugged in and on at all time is my fridge.
    • I don't leave lights on in rooms that I am not in.
    • I don't use central AC. (Window units are easier to control).
    • I have my modem and wireless router on a surge protector that I switch off when I am not using the Internet. (This one also helps control the web procrastination tendency).
  • I don't like gas. So I try not to use it as much as possible. I actually have had the gas disconnected from my stove and I have a separate electric burner sitting on top of it.
  • I don't pig out.
    • I don't regularly go out to eat at places I have to stay and sit awhile to eat my meal. These places usually charge more. (I think they are charging me rent).
    • Dollar menus are awesome!! Don't Super size anything.
    • I try to keep every meal under $3. Most meals are a lot less.
    • I also try to eat frozen dinners often. There are actually some very good ones that can give you a good meal for around 60 to 80 cents.
    • For example, I spent about $5.50 on food today and included a breakfast shake, a 6" pizza for lunch and Deli Spirals for dinner. If I keep up that rate, that is $170 for a month of food.
    • I check the price per unit on items from the grocery. You would be amazed the number of times that I have found that 2 small things of one item is cheaper then buying 1 large one despite them both being the same amount of that item. Most people expect it to be the other way around and not pay close attention.
  • I take the bus or walk most places. Even though I don't have to pay for most of my car expenses, I do pay for gas.
    • Walk is cheaper and much better for the environment.
    • I only drive if I am in a big hurry to get from one place to another (about 5 miles a week).
Beyond those things, I really don't actively try to save money on things. I usually break down and get sushi for lunch at least once a month. I have learned that saving in certain areas can really add up and let you spend more on other areas and still put some away each month.

When I get out of college, I hope to keep up this same life-style for a while. Adding in the Health Insurance and Car maintenance that I currently don't pay, I should be able to easily live for $1200 per month ($14,400 per year).

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Kung Fu, Meditation, and Sexual Intercourse - What's Wrong with My Life.

I spend too much time blog reading and not enough time on the work that actually gets me closer to completing my actual work. So what is my blog topic of choice? (And what is this here blog about?) - Productivity

But Alas, I procrastinate by reading about ways to be more productive. And then I had Merlin Mann point it out in a recent podcast. This podcast is called "Kung Fu, Meditation, and Sexual Intercourse" and is about how reading about these things is anlagous to reading about Productivity. You can read everything you can about them, but until you actually do them, you don't really know them. Unless you do the stuff on your list, reading about productivity and even making list to stay organised is pointless.

But I love doing this. I love writing this blog and letting other know about my latest productivity and organization schemes. I have been doing this sense I was little! I remember in elementary school wondering how my classmates could let their parents shop for their school supplies. I didn't understand that not all kids set up organization systems for themselves every year.

So even if it sounds odd, I am going to keep on using productivity as a procrastination tool. I will keep updating this blog and share my organization schemes with the world!!

I am a religion major. I also spend a good bit of time reading about meditation.
Number of hours I have meditated in the past year: 2

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What's Worth Doing?

I have recently discovered David Seah's blog and was really impressed with his Printable CEO. He creates forms the we can print out that help us plan our day and stay organized. I plan to post a post on various aspects of the system soon, but for now I want to touch on just one aspect. The original form in the system is called the Concrete Goal Tracker, which is based around the concept of giving tasks a point value based whether it will more a company forward or whether there is networking value to it. He gives a point system to work from:

When is something worth doing?

10. It's life-sustaining billable work!
10. It's signing new business!

5. It's publishable code! Ship it!
5. It's sharp visual design! Show it!
5. It's concrete planning or accounting!

2. It's new self-promotion!
2. It's a new article for the blog!
2. It's social or business development!

1. It's maintaining an old relationship!
1. It's making a new relationship.

This is a great list for a CEO (who the system was designed for). But it doesn't apply very well to me (a student). Therefore, I decided to write a personalised version of the list to fit my situation. This is based on my responsibilities and what will help move my goals forward.

What is worth doing?

10. It's gradable schoolwork!
I pay this much to go to school, I better work at it!!!

10. It's directly related to Marion's Ledge!
Marion's Ledge is a major project that I am involved with and is probably one of the most important things in my life right now! If I had my choice, this is all I would be doing. But it gets pushed aside way to much because of school work. :-/

5. It's studying for school!
This is the non-gradable stuff that is still important, but I wanted to make it less important than Marion's Ledge. And there is a lot in this category that could be skipped if I got into a pinch.

5. It's concrete planning and organization!
This category is for stuff like GTD reviews and printing out my Hipster PDA!

5. It's billable or extra-curricular work!
I am in a bunch of extra-curricular activities that are just as important to me as a real job would be. So this category contains both!

2. It's furthering swing dance!
This is either personal dancing development (aka. practice) or furthering Swing in Houston such as demoing at a middle school or a mall in order to get more people involved with our swing scene.

2. It's concrete self- development!
This includes such things as personal writing and other types of activities that I do in order to work on something about me personally.

2. It's an entry for a blog!
This one is self-explanatory.

1. It's furthering computer work!
For me this includes both blog reading and going through PHP, Cocoa, and Objective C tutorial books. At some point in the future, this category may rise up the list to become a 2 or a 5, but for right now...

1. It's building a relationship!
Networking and relationships are important and take work!

So there you have it. Those are my categories for what is important to me. When I write more about the Printable CEO system, I will be writing more about how these play into my personal organization system. And I also plan on trying to find alternate wording for one of the times that I use "concrete" and "furthering". Any suggestions?

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Project Organization - Part 1 - My House

I have made it a resolution to get my life under control. Things are just completely out of whack!! My house is a disaster and I have way too much stuff. My schedule is chaotic. I am always forgetting to do really important things!!!

Join me as I begin Project Organization. Starting with my bedroom and kitchen, I am going to gain some peace in my life and chronicling the whole experience online. I will be searching for systems, life-hacks, and ways of organizing that will let me get, and then stay, organized.

I challenge anyone who feels the chaos building around them to join me. I will share my story and struggles here at Fearful Symmetry. Feel free to join the conversation and leave comments.

Today is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life
I started my journey towards organization by taking everything out of my bedroom.I was going to start by focusing on two areas: my kitchen and my bedroom. Every item that was in my room that wasn't too large, I put into my living room which I am using as a holding area for all my unsorted stuff. Then I took the time to reorganize my bedroom furniture to a layout that was a little more useful and fresh.

Then I tackled my kitchen. With the help of a friend, the kitchen got clean and trash/recycle got sorted. For the first time in months, I now have a perfectly clean kitchen!! I highly recommend getting a friend to help you clean. It is funner and easier to clean with a partner. (And it goes faster!) My cleaning friend and I made a deal to help each other clean our apartments.

So now my room looks bare and my kitchen is usable. Now onto the heftier stuff...

Before I could start bringing stuff back into my room, I had to set up a couple systems in order to contain my stuff. For this, I turned to David Allen's book Getting Things Done. The first is a reference system. David Allen suggests using a simple alphabetical filing system. He recommended using manila folders without the hanging folders, but since I own a large deep file cabinet made for hanging folders, I decided to just not use manila folders and just use the hanging ones. I bought 50 hanging folders to start. (David suggests starting with 100 in the book). I also bought a new cartridge for my labeler so that I could have very neat folder tabs. I only put tabs on the center of the folders so that they would be neat in my drawer and I would not have to worry about placing a new folder in between two existing ones and messing with the tabs.

Another system that I set up is my tickler file. I use a 4 X 6 index card box for my tickler with Jan-Dec dividers and 1-31 dividers. I set them up so that there is a spot for every day. And the numbers already used for this month, just go after the next month's divider. Here is a picture of how the dividers are suppose to look:

I also bought myself 4X6 index cards that I can make lists on. Each card is a context for Next Actions or a category list (such as Projects and Waiting on). Now I am ready to begin the sorting.

I started with the drawers to my Elfa cabinet (which I had taken out of the frame and put in the living room), so that I could get the drawers free to hold other stuff. I began by taking out one item from the first drawer. For each item, I would go through the GTD workflow diagram (From How to Save the World) with one modification. I added "Memory Box" to the list of things to do with a non-actionable item. I have a lot of souvenirs that I don't want to get rid of but which are cluttering my life. I don't want to trash them, or do anything about them in the future, or have them cluttering my reference cabinet, so they get a sturdy plastic box to be put in. In the end, this box will be going into my living room closet.

Most of the stuff that I got through today was reference material that didn't need an action and therefore got filed away. But I did find one thing to do in less then two minutes (I did it) and a couple things to put as next actions. My friend that I mentioned earlier sorted through my living room, so now even that looks doable. In the week to come, I will be sorting through more and more and running everything through the workflow diagram. Soon enough my house will be under my control once again. That will be a fine thing indeed. :-)

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