How to Track Your Workmonster


[Charlie:] Getting more done while not killing myself is sort of the core story today.

Well, I’ve been getting half of that done: I definitely got more done this week. I’m not exactly feeling like I got more rest however. But let’s talk about getting more done first.


I’ve been trying to adopt the Getting Things Done methods, and have found an adaptation that so far seems to work reasonably well. Call it Steno Pad GTD.

I started by doing the GTD brain dump into a steno pad. I have a bunch of them around, because the real secret of life is to have office supplies available at a moment’s notice. This ends up being a series of bulleted notes, like:

  • Science column on cancer immunotherapy
  • Experiment with Cucumber and Capistrano
  • Science column on neurological effects of growing up bilingual
  • Order fountain pen cartridges
  • Order Schneider Xpress pens from Amazon. (They’re great pens by the way)
  • Re-read the Google testing book

The first thing I did was start by writing all this … stuff down. In the morning, when I write my morning pages, I keep the steno pad with me, and add things, because during the morning braindump is when I have a lot of ideas and to-dos come to mind. After the morning pages I go through the list and see what I have to do that day.

Now, some of them are just to-dos that will take little time, but some of them are ideas or projects. This morning I had an idea for a mystery — I wrote it down on the first pad — then kept going with the pages. (Notice that from the standpoint of doing morning pages you have to be a little careful with this; sometimes I write the idea directly in the pages and underline it to move it to the steno pad later.)



In any case, that steno pad is my inbox. I’ve got a second steno pad which is for projects, one project or column or idea per page. As I go through my inbox pad in the morning, new project ideas get copied to the project pad. Sometimes they get just a line or two, sometimes I have more thoughts, and they get added. Very loose, informal notes only.

While I’m running through the inbox, I’ve got yet a third steno pad handy. I pick things to be done today and put them down in a to-do list on that third pad. Then I tear off that page and it’s my to-dos for the day.

This has actually been fairly effective. I like it when I can cross everything off the to-do list and throw it away. Now, the major reason I use steno pads for this is that I have about a half case of the things in my office supplies closet, but I’ve noticed something: they’re not very big. A To Do list that fits on one steno pad page is more likely to be a doable To Do list. A To Do list on a full-sized sheet of paper grows to too many to-dos to be done.

But only fairly effective, because every so often I’ll put down a boil-the-ocean sort of to-do item, something that takes more hours than there are in the day. I do tend to over-estimate how much I can get done. As a result, this week I’ve missed out on some of the other things I’d promised myself I was going to do, like leave the house, and buy groceries, and yesterday and today I’ve been feeling pretty burned out.


So I started something else today for the first time: I went through the items on today’s list and I assigned tomatoes to them. (As in Pomodoro Technique tomatoes.) Right now I’m on my second tomato for this column, and — oops, just realized I haven’t set the timer, there — I do imagine that I’ll be pretty well done with it by the end of this tomato.

The idea here is that if I find myself with 18 tomatoes in a day — which is 9 hours of all out effort — I know I’m over-promising myself. Today’s list has 10 tomatoes, 5 hours, and we’ll see how it works.

So, for this week, the workmonster hasn’t been as well tamed as I might like — the way I sort of collapsed on Friday proves that. But I do think I’m making progress.

The workmonster has a tug of war with the other work monster.

The workmonster has a tug of war with the other work monster.

[Sarah:] I’d like to say this week I tamed the work monster, but unfortunately all I’m really doing is throwing a work monster at the other work monster.

My life being what it is, I found myself either reading for the next novel, working on the current novel (sequels to Darkship Thieves) or trying to deal with the life of the household, which this week was a work monster.


So my oldest cat has a heart condition. Yes, I know. I know there’s much worse things.  But Miranda has been with us for 13 years, and she rules the house with an iron paw.  If a cat can have a type A personality, Miranda does.  And she has a heart condition.  On the other hand, she developed an hematoma on her ear (and she’s a Cornish Rex, so she’s all ears) from rubbing it after we gave her heart medicine via the ear…

The normal treatment for this is an operation, but the doctor didn’t want to put Miranda under — see, heart condition — so instead we tried leeches (there’s an article on this later this week.)  Only it didn’t go right (I’ll explain in the article) so they ended up having to put her under and do the surgery.  Which, unfortunately meant she came home with her ear still draining.  I was supposed to pull off any scab that formed every hour.

Picture this — every hour I stopped what I was doing to find an increasingly skittish cat, who screamed before I even touched her.  By Thursday I was a nervous wreck, and the I couldn’t pull the scab off for the cat wriggling.  So, in despair, I took her in and boarded her.

This gave me time to get older son packed for a professional thing (his first, so he was nervous as heck) and to spend today trying to settle back into writing.


I did write about 5k words on the novel, and three blog posts, and clean the house, and pack the kid off for his trip and the cat to the vet.

BUT I was always on and not enough got done. I’m not sure who’s winning, but the workmonster and I are both losing.

Onward.  My goal this week is to finish the dang novel, and take time to draw.  (Which I need to do anyway.)


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