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Sometimes life is too wonderfully messy

I had intended to write a lengthy post today about tips to be more organized, as a followup to my post earlier this week about finding yourself in the gap. But, ironically enough, today was just too messy to get it done. There was time in the garden, napping, spending time with my husband, filling the house with delicious baking smells, and re-watching a wonderful old movie.

I’ll resume more lengthy posts tomorrow. But for now, it’s a summer Sunday evening and the air is warm and the crickets are chirping and organization needs to take a backseat. I hope you’re having the same kind of Sunday, my dear friends.

– Jenna

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A giant helping of bite-sized reading

If you haven’t read Tamara Shopsin’s book Arbitrary Stupid Goal (published in 2017), stop everything and get a copy immediately. It’s a memoir about growing up in 1970’s Greenwich Village, and her family’s diner/market, known affectionately as “The Store.”

The book is structured as a rapid-fire avalanche of vignettes, some several pages, some only a few sentences: remembrances, retellings and nostalgia all mixed together with a giant dose of humor, a realistic amount of sadness and several celebrity cameos.

Although the stories involving John Belushi (a regular at the diner who had his own key) are the most poignant and sometimes heartbreaking, one story involving Jeff Goldblum was the standout bite of delicious cake for me. Goldblum was in the diner with Shopsin’s parents and another employee when a well-dressed armed robber bursts in, herds them to the bathroom and tells them to empty their pockets…

“The thief takes fifteen dollars from my mom, forty off of Tommy, twenty off my dad, and hands Jeff back his ten, saying ‘you need this more than me.’”

Arbitrary Stupid Goal is the kind of book that marketers love to mention you can “dip in and out” of in bite-sized pieces, but it’s so good you’ll want to devour it in one sitting.

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Don’t judge this book by its cover. Except, maybe you should because it perfectly captures the “what the $@&#?!” feel of reading it…in the best way possible.

And if you’re hungry for more, make sure to check out the famous eleven page EPIC menu of the original Shopsin’s, and patriarch Kenny Shopsin’s tribute in the New Yorker after his death in 2018.

– Jenna

 

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How will you spend the longest day of the year?

Today is the Summer Solstice in the northern hemisphere. It occurred at 8:54am PDT, to be exact! It’s the first day of summer and the longest day of the year, which begs to be marked in some special way, doesn’t it? You could:

  • Eat some strawberries! June’s full moon is known as the strawberry full moon, and in Sweden they would eat the first strawberries of the season to mark the first day of summer
  • Head to the beach, a lake or just your backyard or roof to watch the sunset! You can find sunset times for your location at the Farmer’s Almanac.
  • Find some great summer reading material. Two of my favorite beach read authors are Elin Hilderbrand and Carl Hiaasen
  • Make a big blender full of margaritas and celebrate!

I’ll be doing all of the above 🙂 But whatever you do, try to mark the day in some special way!

“There’s just so many summers baby, just so many springs.”

-Don Henley

– Jenna

P.S. If you’d like more articles like this one, sign up for my (occasional) newsletter so you never miss a post! I’ll also include some fun extras that aren’t on my blog!

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eBooks are expensive for libraries

Blogger and book lover Modern Mrs. Darcy, posted today about how expensive eBooks are for libraries. I’ve often wondered how the process works, and it seems that it really doesn’t:

Should I have known this already? Probably. But did I? Nope. This spring I’ve done several events with librarians all over the country, who all echoed the same sentiment: the current model of lending ebooks to patrons is not sustainable, because the costs libraries pay to offer them are substantial. But patrons love ebooks.

And if you really want to go down the rabbit hole, she points to a Good Reader article that explains the whole model in detail.

When libraries put new paper books on their shelves, they simply buy the book. When libraries put ebooks into circulation, they don’t just buy the book. They buy ebooks at a significant markup, averaging $25 per copy in 2018, and they can only use them for a limited time before they are required to pay to renew the license. Some publishers don’t sell to libraries at all; they want every individual reader to purchase every book.

For more info, check out this breakdown of how much libraries pay for ebooks from publishers. It’s not the most current—and one top publisher just announced changes to their pricing model yesterday—but it’s thorough.

Food for thought. Library eBooks have always seemed like the best of all options, but it sounds like a monthly trip to your local branch might be better for the long term health of your library.

– Jenna

Categories
PRODUCTIVITY TECHNOLOGY

If technology stresses you out, you’re probably in the gap

Imagine you are a person who loves shoes. Sure, some people are able to get along fine with, say, 3-5 pairs of shoes. They have some sneakers, a few dressy pairs for work, and some sandals. They keep them in the bottom of their closet. They don’t think about them much.

But not you. You LOVE shoes. You have more than 50 pairs of shoes. You are always on the lookout for the newest styles. You see other people wearing interesting shoes and you ask them where they bought them so you can get a pair for yourself. And everyone in your life knows you love shoes, so people are always telling you about shoe sales or wanting your advice on what’s in style.

You have a problem, though. You have tons of shoes but no way to organize them. You certainly don’t want to get rid of any, but you also don’t want to be the kind of crazy person who has a dedicated walk-in closet for shoes. That seems over-indulgent, too cumbersome, too complicated. So instead, you keep a mountain of boxes in the corner of your bedroom. Every day, you pull a pair out from the middle and the whole tower collapses. You curse the shoes. They are always in the way! But what can you do? You’re stuck. You don’t want to limit yourself to five pairs of shoes, but it seems like so much trouble to create an organized home for the shoes. You’re in the gap, and it’s painful. If you can just accept that you are the kind of person who wants a fancy shoe closet (and why not?!), you can put things in order and enjoy all those wonderful shoes to the fullest.

Now, let’s rewind our story and replace those beautiful shoes with delightful new technologies.

You are a person who likes to be connected. Sure, some people have a Yahoo email address and a Facebook account and they call it a day. They don’t think about it too much.

But not you. You want it all! Beautiful photos, apps that track your workout or your goals or books you’ve ready. You need Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram (oh, HE-llo old high school frenemies)! You take photos of your fancy dinner out and your dog while he’s sleeping. You read blogs (Jenna’s Workshop every day, of course!). You write reminders in note apps and start to-do lists and make lists of books to read and articles you want to circle back to because you haven’t had the time to read them and on and on and on. The possibilities are endless!

But you have a problem. You have 1,000 photos on your phone and can never figure out how to organize them. You have so many apps vying for space that you have to conduct a monthly Hunger Games-style culling to keep from running out of storage. You have accounts on over 100 apps and websites, and you try to remember as many passwords as possible (or use the same one for all of them, YIKES!). But you don’t want to have a photo organization system, or use a password app, or have a process to keep your email under control. That seems like overkill, too cumbersome, too complicated. You have so many apps already, you don’t need MORE! But you also don’t want to jump on the minimalism bandwagon and miss out on all the great things technology has to offer. You are stressed out!

You’re in the gap, my friend.

But don’t despair! I’ve got some ideas that will help you bridge the gap and make your way to the other side, where a little bit more of the RIGHT technology can make a world of difference. And I’ll be sharing some of these ideas with you over the next few weeks!

In the meantime, sign up for my inaugural (and occasionalnewsletter so you never miss a post! I’ll also include some fun extras that aren’t on my blog!

– Jenna 

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Become a better judge of people (and see yourself more clearly)

A few years ago, when I was looking to brush up on my skills in interviewing job candidates, I read a book called Good People: The Only Leadership Decision That Really Matters by Anthony Tjan.

The book’s suggestion is that we can change the way we think about goodness in order to become better judges of people and create more goodness in ourselves, in others, and in our organizations. But even outside of the workplace, you can learn to become a better judge of the people around you, and also to assess the extent to which you are meeting your own expectations in these areas.

Tjan suggests asking yourself specific questions about someone (or reflecting on your own qualities) that relate to core values that combine to form this sense of goodness: namely truth, compassion and wholeness. Here are the questions:

  1. Do you believe this person is self-aware? (truth)

  2. Does this person feel authentic or obsequious? (truth)

  3. What is the talk-to-listen ratio? (compassion)

  4. Is this person an energy giver or taker? (compassion and wholeness)

  5. Is this person likely to act or react to a task? (compassion)

  6. How does this person treat someone (s)he doesn’t know? (compassion)

  7. What is their spouse or partner like? (truth)

  8. Is there an element of struggle in the person’s history? How does (s)he respond to setbacks? (compassion)

  9. What has this person been reading? (wholeness)

  10. Would you ever want to go on a long car ride with this person? (truth and compassion)

  11. Is this person comfortable with idiosyncrasies? (wholeness)

  12. Is the person multidimensional or multidisciplinary? (wholeness)

What do you think? How would you answer these questions about yourself, or about the people around you? Do you have a favorite question from the list?  As a book lover, I’m always interested in what people are reading, so number 9 is high on my list, along with envisioning taking a long car ride with someone. But they all seem like great ways to dig deeper into someone’s personality.

Let me know if you try it, and what you learn!

– Jenna

 

 

 

 

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The (successful) formula of the sick system

Every once in a while, I come across a piece of writing that describes an aspect of everyday life SO PERFECTLY that it stops me in my tracks. It names an emotion, a pattern or a situation that I (like most people) have never really thought about head on. But it clicks so easily into the web of our human experience that once it’s been identified, we can’t imagine a time before we knew about it. Lots of examples come to mind (gaslighting being one of them).

Are you ready for a new one?

A few years ago, I happened upon a link to an article by a blogger named issendai, which described the phenomenon of the Sick System, and how both individuals and organizations alike create sick systems to keep people tied to them indefinitely:

So you want to keep your lover or your employee close. Bound to you, even. You have a few options. You could be the best lover they’ve ever had, kind, charming, thoughtful, competent, witty, and a tiger in bed. You could be the best workplace they’ve ever had, with challenging work, rewards for talent, initiative, and professional development, an excellent work/life balance, and good pay. But both of those options demand a lot from you. Besides, your lover (or employee) will stay only as long as she wants to under those systems, and you want to keep her even when she doesn’t want to stay. How do you pin her to your side, irrevocably, permanently, and perfectly legally?

You create a sick system.

The sick system has four basic rules:

Rule 1: Keep them too busy to think. Thinking is dangerous. If people can stop and think about their situation logically, they might realize how crazy things are.

Rule 2: Keep them tired. Exhaustion is the perfect defense against any good thinking that might slip through. Fixing the system requires change, and change requires effort, and effort requires energy that just isn’t there. No energy, and your lover’s dangerous epiphany is converted into nothing but a couple of boring fights.

This is also a corollary to keeping them too busy to think. Of course you can’t turn off anyone’s thought processes completely—but you can keep them too tired to do any original thinking. The decision center in the brain tires out just like a muscle, and when it’s exhausted, people start making certain predictable types of logic mistakes. Found a system based on those mistakes, and you’re golden.

Rule 3: Keep them emotionally involved. Make them love you if you can, or if you’re a company, foster a company culture of extreme loyalty. Otherwise, tie their success to yours, so if you do well, they do well, and if you fail, they fail. If you’re working in an industry where failure isn’t a possibility (the government, utilities), establish a status system where workers do better or worse based on seniority. (This also works in bad relationships if you’re polyamorous.)

Also note that if you set up a system in which personal loyalty and devotion are proof of your lover’s worthiness as a person, you can make people love you. Or at least think they love you. In fact, any combination of intermittent rewards plus too much exhaustion to consider other alternatives will induce people to think they love you, even if they hate you as well.

Rule 4: Reward intermittently. Intermittent gratification is the most addictive kind there is. If you know the lever will always produce a pellet, you’ll push it only as often as you need a pellet. If you know it never produces a pellet, you’ll stop pushing. But if the lever sometimes produces a pellet and sometimes doesn’t, you’ll keep pushing forever, even if you have more than enough pellets (because what if there’s a dry run and you have no pellets at all?). It’s the motivation behind gambling, collectible cards, most video games, the Internet itself, and relationships with crazy people.

Is any of this sounding familiar to you? Have you experienced this kind of system? You may think that you are savvy enough to avoid this kind of relationship in your personal life. But in professional settings, it is INCREDIBLY easy to get caught up in a sick system and not realize it for years, especially when it is tied to your livelihood. They are everywhere.

The article goes on to explain how sick systems are so simple to sustain for the people behind them, and the tactics they use:

Keep the crises rolling. Incompetence is a great way to do this: If the office system routinely works badly or the controlling partner routinely makes major mistakes, you’re guaranteed ongoing crises. Poor money management works well, too. So does being in an industry where the clients are guaranteed to be volatile and flaky, or preferring friends who are themselves in perpetual crisis. You can also institutionalize regular crises: Workers in the Sea Org, the elite wing of Scientology, must exceed the previous week’s production every single week or face serious penalties. Because this is impossible, it guarantees regular crises as the deadline approaches.

Regular crises perform two functions: They keep people too busy to think, and they provide intermittent reinforcement. After all, sometimes you win—and when you’ve mostly lost, a taste of success is addictive.

But why wouldn’t people eventually realize that the crises are a permanent state of affairs? Because you’ve explained them away with an explanation that gives them hope.

Things will be better when... I get a new job. I’m mean to you now because I’m so stressed, but I’m sure that will go away when I’m not working at this awful place.

The production schedule is crazy because the client is nuts. We just need to get through this cycle, then we’ll have a new client, and they’ll be much better.

She has a bad temper because she just started with a new therapist. She’ll be better when she settles in.

Now, the first person isn’t actually looking for a job. (They’re too stressed to fill out applications.) The second industry always has another crazy client, because all the clients are crazy. (Or better yet, because the company is set up to destroy the workflow and make the client look crazy.) The third person has been with her “new” therapist for a year. (But not for three years! Or five!) But the explanation sounds plausible, and every now and then the person has a good day or a production cycle goes smoothly. Intermittent reinforcement + hope = “Someday it will always be like this.” Perpetual crises mean the person is too tired to notice that it has never been like this for long.

If you’re interested in diving deeper, I highly recommend checking out the Sick Systems article in its entirety.

But wait, there’s more! In a follow up article, issendai lists the personal qualities that can keep ANYONE in a sick system. And they’re not what you might think!

This is where I’m supposed to follow up with What to Do to Fix the World, but the answer is: nothing. You can’t fix a sick system from within unless you have power, and you can’t fix a sick system from outside, period. You can’t compel people to leave. You can convince them to leave, but the moment that convinces them is individual, like enlightenment striking a monk because his master made a joke about a spade. And when a stuck person chooses to leave, it will be long, long, long after they should have gotten out.

So instead I offer you a list:

Qualities That Keep You in a Sick System
  • Loyalty
  • Patience
  • A strong work ethic
  • Optimism
  • Self-sacrifice
  • A need to be useful to others
  • Forgiveness
  • Farsightedness
  • Trust
  • Hope

You don’t need to lose these qualities to get out. But if you’re stuck and trying to figure out what’s keeping you in, remember that people rarely get stuck because of their vices. They’re usually caught by their virtues.

That last part always hits me like a ton of bricks, how about you? And what lessons can we take from all of this? For me, the most important lessons are the simplest (but often the hardest to master):

  1. Trust your gut
  2. Trust your gut
  3. Trust your gut

 

– Jenna

Categories
FUN

A simple, beautiful game

The New York Times website has a beautiful new game called Tiles that is pretty addictive. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Categories
PRODUCTIVITY

Keep the coupons, hide the emails

Stores like Michaels, Kohl’s and Bed Bath & Beyond will send out great coupons if you’re on their email list. But they’ll also clog up your inbox with an annoyingly large number of promo emails (sometimes up to 5 a day!). And unless you’re fully in the throes of blank notebook syndrome, no one needs that many trips to Michaels.

If you want to keep getting store coupons but don’t want to see the emails, here’s a handy hack for Gmail:

  1. Log in to Gmail from a computer (you can’t do this on your phone or tablet)
  2. Find an email from the store in your inbox and check the checkbox to the left of it.
  3. Click the More Moreicon at the top of your inbox
  4. Select Filter messages like these.
  5. Confirm the email address appears in the “From” section, then click Create filter
  6. Check Skip the Inbox and Mark as read as your actions
  7. Click Create filter

Now, whenever an email from that store comes in, Gmail will automatically archive it and you’ll never see it in your inbox. The next time you head to that store (perhaps to buy supplies for your Saturday tub?) just open your email on your phone and search for the store name. You’ll be able to see all the emails that have been archived and use that snazzy 40% off coupon like a boss.

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Some stores might send emails from more than one address, so you might need to set up a few filters over time, but it’s so worth the effort. If you try it, let me know how it goes. And Happy Couponing!

– Jenna

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Getcha some cheap notebooks

I’ve bought enough fancy notebooks and journals in my life to outfit a small stationery store. And most of them stay empty. It seems like the nicer the notebook, the more preciously you treat what you should write in it (which is basically…nothing). And I’m not the only one…

 

notebooks

Today I was sorting through a bunch of papers and things that I’d written in the past few years, and I realized the ONLY notebooks I write regularly in are…

THESE!

compbook

Composition books are really the best kind of notebook. They’re cheap. Really cheap. They travel well. You can buy them at any grocery store. They’re not pretty, which is a good thing. You can write anything in them: good writing, bad writing, terrible writing, sketches of ponies….it doesn’t matter. YOU JUST GET IT ON THE PAGE. It’s the first step. And a cheap-ass composition notebook gets you there with a lot less fuss.

Do you suffer from the blank notebook syndrome too? Try picking up a STACK of these bad boys for the price of one of those fancy little numbers with the leather cover they sell at Barnes & Noble. Let me know how it goes!

– Jenna