Business, New Construction Townhome, Organization

Time Management as an Art Project

For the past few months I’ve been waking up in a cold sweat freaking out about things I forgot to take care of. A lot of it is little, like forgetting to schedule a hair appointment until after they’ve closed for the day. Some of it is bigger, like the Kickstarter I did a few years ago that fizzled out (more on that in another post) and a few things are huge, like the fact that I completely bungled my corporate tax filings for the last 3 years.

With some nudging from my therapist and support from my husband I finally managed to get on top of things. My to-do list has gone from “deal with 3 years of back taxes” to more mundane stuff like “clean up the dried paint in the bathroom.” I used a handful of different strategies to gain control, which I’ll detail in a sec, but the biggest key to staying motivated has been to turn it into something like an art project.

Step 1: I wrote down everything I was putting off

AKA I made a to-do list, but with some very specific guidelines.

First, everything on the list had to be something I’d been putting off for a while. None of my normal daily/weekly chores got put on there. Although I hate going to the grocery store, hunger will eventually lead me there so I don’t need to put it on my list of terrible to-dos.

Second, if it was a big task (like “unfuck my accounting”) I wrote down only the first step in the process. Whatever was on the list had to be eminently doable (if sucky). So instead of unfuck my accounting I wrote call accountant. Luckily I had the name of a good accountant already. If I hadn’t, I would have written find an accountant.

And most importantly, I limited the list to what would fit on a post-it note. I’m not rattling off every task I could possibly hope to accomplish in the next month, just the stuff I really need to get around to.

Step 2: I dedicated an hour a day to working on my list

timerThis was my therapist’s idea and at first I balked. An hour? Where am I going to find an extra hour? And then I thought what do I even do in a day? Because I work from home, freelance, my work and my meta-work and my home life and my hobbies sometimes start to blend together. In order to find that extra hour I had to tease them apart and work more efficiently.

Once I committed myself to the hour I could no longer engage in productive procrastination to avoid my terrible tasks. I set a timer and sat down with my list. During the hour I only worked on things that appeared on that list. After a week the list was dwindling. Two weeks in I’ve cleared out everything on the original list – some of which had been there for years.

Step 3: I started logging what I was doing with Chronodex

This is where the wacky circle thing comes in.


Chronodex was designed as a paper planner. The circle represents a clock, and each wedge is an hour. The different sizes of the wedges just make it easier to differentiate them. It’s meant for folks who primarily care about 9am to 9pm, as midnight to 9am are on the interior of the circle and 9pm to midnight are sort of ghosted around the exterior. If you shade in your various appointments and responsibilities you have a nice visualization of your day.

I have google calendar for appointments, but I use Chronodex to record what I’ve done in a day. Rather than print out an entire 6 months of dated pages I printed a bunch of blank Chronodex cores on sticker paper and slap one in my Moleskine notebook each day. This allows me the flexibility to take up more/less space as needed on any given day. I use different colored pens to shade in what I did: billable work, meta-work, family time, exercise, sleep, terrible to-do time.

My first day’s Chronodex. I have since given up on logging the weather despite loving to draw clouds.

If you look through the gallery of how people use Chronodex, everyone uses it a little differently. There’s no right or wrong way to shade in the wedges, that’s where the art project comes in.

Once I started accounting for my time, some really important things happened. I started to feel better about myself because I was acknowledging the things I accomplished in a day. I started thinking about my time in 15 minute blocks which has helped me focus a lot on the task at hand. I am better at stopping myself from jumping between work, home, and play because I’ve internalized that I’m “in a work block” or “in a family block.” When I take a break I take a full 15 or 30 minute break instead of just shoving food in my face while sitting at my keyboard. My reward for being productive is that I get to shade in that time on my Chronodex afterwards.

Step 4: I started having time for chores

Now that I’ve been dedicating all this time to my terrible to-dos, I don’t actually need the full daily hour to do them anymore. It’s tempting to us that time for goofing off, but instead I’ve started adding some routine chores into my schedule. This is the stuff I should be doing but often don’t and then either a) it gets gross or b) my husband takes care of it and pretends not to secretly resent what a slob I am.

This is not the first time I have tackled chores with an overly complicated art project. Behold:

Oh yeah, I remember you now
Oh yeah, I remember you now

That project served me very well. It fell by the wayside when we moved and I had a bigger house with WAY MORE THINGS that needed doing. Also I reinstalled windows and no longer have a python environment handy to generate the pages.

The biggest problem I have with a pre-printed list of chores though is that it becomes your tyrant instead of a tool. If you fall behind you have this paper trail of failure plus the question of “do I just skip those chores or is my entire day now going to be nothing but cleaning?”

For this iteration I printed out a bunch of common chores onto some return address labels. Apparently you all have a boner for labels, because this was one of my most liked items on Facebook this week.

If there is one thing you all love it is colorful labels.

I cut them into sets of 8 or so and keep a sheet of them alongside my to-do list in my notebook (which I use as a bookmark). When I do a chore, I put that sticker on the page. The colors mean nothing; I just like colorful things. This is basically a more boring version of what you might use for a 7 year old. The stickers behave sort of like a repeating to-do list. I limit these chores to things I can do in 15 minutes or less.

Step 5: Profit

Actually I think the only people profiting here are the label companies. But I sleep better at night now that I no longer have a list of years-old to-do items hanging over my head.

My biggest takeaway from this is that I do better with accountability than expectation. Which is to say, when I plan my chores or tasks for the week out in advance I never seem to live up to the standard I’m setting. But if I hold myself accountable to what I’ve accomplished each day – regardless of what it is – I can get a lot done.

I love the flexibility stickers offer me. I can skip a day or do something different tomorrow and it’s not this weird scar in my notebook. On weekends I don’t usually need to be such a taskmaster, so unless I’ve got a lot going on I don’t bother.

And most importantly, this works because I am highly motivated by charts and graphs. Seriously. I cleaned my office bathroom yesterday expressly so I could get a sticker. I focus on work instead of checking Facebook just so I can shade that 15 minute wedge in blue. If the idea of sitting down with a pack of multicolored pens doesn’t fill you with excited anticipation, this won’t help you at all.

Speaking of pens, these are my very favorite. They don’t bleed through the pages and make a nice smooth line.

Frequently Asked Questions

Doesn’t this take kind of a while?

Yes. I spend about 15 minutes a day updating my stupid Chronodex. But I consider it time well spent because I’m actually getting things done the rest of the day instead of checking Facebook 500 times.

What about free/leisure time?

I experimented with shading in those things too after the fact and it was just too much for my taste. I like the visual effect the space has when I don’t have a scheduled task.

Where can I learn more about Chronodex?

This lady wrote up a good blog post on it.

Can I have the files you used to make the stickers?

Chronodex core sheet – full sheet sticker: PSD  PDF
Chore stickers – Avery 8167: PSD PDF


Etsy Sellers: Spamming Blogs is a Waste of Your Time

Two and a half years ago (!) I wrote an article on how to improve your Etsy shop. It’s by far the most popular article on my blog, and as of this writing has 256* comments. I’ve noticed a particularly sad trend: Etsy sellers commenting with simply a link to their Etsy shop.

Photo credit freezelight


Comment spam is not at all unique to Etsy sellers, I get 20+ spam comments every day. Most of them are caught by the spam filters. But most of them are also from spambots – automated scripts that seek out popular blog platforms and spray comment spam wherever they can.

But the Etsy spam seems to come from mostly humans, which means that there are people who think that tediously copy-pasting their link onto blogs is the most effective use of their time to market their shop. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and the idea that someone is sinking hours of their life into this is just heartbreaking.

There are a number of reasons why comment linkspam isn’t an effective way to drive traffic to your shop. Frankly, no one is likely to see it. Very few people are going to click a link in a comment, and the chances of converting them into a sale is minimal. The return on the investment of your time just isn’t worth it.

A lot of people are under the mistaken assumption that planting links to their Etsy store all over the web will improve their positioning in search results. This is called Search Engine Optimization. But nearly all modern blog platforms are wise to this practice, and tag outgoing links in comments as “nofollow.” This tag tells search engines that they should not consider the link trusted, and not to give any SEO benefits to it.

I think part of the problem is that a number of sources, including Etsy itself, have promoted blogging as a means of driving marketing. And there are a lot of ways in which this is true. But comment spam isn’t one of them. A lot of marketing is about building a story behind your products. For the hour you spend copy/pasting your shop address all over the internet, you’d be much better off writing a story about your creative process or background and asking relevant blogs if they’d be interested in featuring it.

Comment spam feels “free” because there isn’t a cash investment involved, but ultimately your time is worth something. And for what you’re spending (time) versus what you’re getting back (nothing), comment spam is possibly one of the most expensive things you can do.

* Omg 256 comments! What a great number. That’s 2^8, which any nerd knows is a very important number!


My New Office


It’s finally nice weather out, so I decided to make use of my cell phone’s wifi tethering feature and take my office outside. Being a member of a coworking space is great, but sometimes you just want to get away from everyone and hammer out some code.

I recently picked up a Eagles Nest Outfitters DoubleNest Hammock for camping, and this seemed like a good time to test it out and practice hanging it.

The hardest part was finding two trees close enough together and an appropriate diameter for my straps. The trees in nearby Liberty State Park are all pretty far apart, and tend to be either too small or absolutely huge. But at last, I found two trees about 10′ apart and each about 8 inches in diameter. As a bonus, my spot has a nice view of both Ellis Island and the Statue of LIberty.

I did make one critical error: I forgot to bring snacks and now I’m starving. So soon I’ll have to abandon my hammock to go search for food, but until then it’s a pretty great place to write code.

Business, Hacking

Where are the women in tech?

Where are the women in tech? Oh, apparently we’re all out shoe shopping.

Google sent out invites to Gilt Groupe*’s early bird sale of Chromebook laptops. I found it difficult to get excited about a $500 laptop boasting nearly the same specs as a netbook I bought for the same price 2 years ago, but I’m also not the target market for a “fashion laptop.”

What is curious though is Gilt Groupe’s decision on how to categorize the laptop, which I only noticed when copy/pasting the URL to a friend:

Oh, right, it’s a men’s item. Never mind the fact that they have a perfectly serviceable Home category, for items which are presumably neither worn nor gendered.

This is, on the scale of sexist things I’ve witnessed, pretty trivial. Minor. Unimportant. But come on people. Is this really where we are still? Girls like shoes and boys like computers?

Come on folks, we can do better than this.

* Don’t even get me started on the superfluous E

Startup Life

City Of Epic Kickstarter Campaign!

My friend Katherine and I have been working like crazy on a game project for the last few months, and we’re thrilled with what we’ve accomplished so far. Now, we’re trying to bring it to an open beta while making it as fantastic as possible. We’ve started a Kickstarter campaign to get us there.

City of Epic is an RPG based around real-world where can i buy clomid exercise. Rather than get all TL;DR, I’ll let this “high quality” video explain it:

If you like some combination of gaming, fitness, and awesomeness, please consider donating!


Quest Sneak Peek!

We're holed up in Brigantine, NJ for the week, cranking out code at a breakneck pace. Things are starting to come together, including the framework for quests!

More stuff!

Our first quest is a 9 week program to prepare even the laziest of couch potatoes for the zombie apocalypse. In the event of a zombie apocalypse, all the shotguns and peels in the world aren't going to help you one bit if you can't make it to the safe house without stopping to catch your breath.

The UI is slowly buy cheap cialis starting to come together. It's been challenging balancing our mountain of to-dos for the project. There are just two of us to cover all the storyline, illustration, game mechanics, user interface, frontend code, and backend code. But now that we have our first fully playable scenario up and running, the othe parts are starting to fall into place. Hooray!


When Free is Bad

Everyone likes free stuff. And some of the best technology and services I use are also conveniently free. But today I got a thorough lesson on the perils of free, and when you should pony up some cash for services.

Like many other people, I use Gmail for everything. Email for my various domains (10 last I counted) all ends up in Gmail. In short, Gmail contains my internet life.

I’m sure you can see where this is headed.

Earlier this afternoon, as I hit ‘send’ on an email to my dad, I was informed by Gmail that my session had expired. So I logged out, logged back in, and was then informed that my account was suspended for “unusual activity,” and that generally speaking, these things are resolved within 24 hours. There was no way to get in touch with anyone at Google, and no more information about why I’d been locked out.

As I generic cialis online was seething with rage and trying to figure out how to get in touch with all my business contacts to let them know that I wasn’t ignoring them, I realized that while Gmail kind of sucks, I also had unrealistic expectations of the service they were providing. For free.

Because Gmail is free, they have absolutely no obligation to me or my mail. There’s no obligation to provide anything resembling customer support. Customer support is expensive. So for a whopping total of free dollars, it’s not surprising I’m not getting any.

That’s the problem with free. As a customer you have no leverage. Telling a company I’m going to pack up and take my $0 elsewhere is hardly a compelling reason to do anything.

I use email for business all the time. And while I cursed all things Google and waited for the Gmail fairy to restore access to my mail, I signed up for an account at pobox. At $50 per year it’s not free, but as a business expense it’s pretty cheap. And then I set it up for use with my own domain. That way in the future if I’m not happy with my mail hosting, I can change without having to send out the “hey my email address is changing” message I’m writing right now.

My new email address will be, but I can’t decide what. seems redundant. does too. Maybe I’ll just set up a catch-all and make up my email addresses as I go along. Suggestions?

Startup Life

Pivotal Tracker

I just finished up my third week at SkillSlate. For anyone who missed my last post about it, it’s a directory of handymen, personal trainers, and other service providers. Right now it’s just in New York City, but that will change soon.

SkillSlate uses Pivotal Tracker for task management. At this point I have used just about every task management tool under the sun. Bugzilla, Eventum, Trac, various offerings from 37 Signals… I even rolled my own using WordPress once. So far I can’t say that any one of them is my favorite. They each have their advantages and drawbacks.

Pivotal is interesting because it uses a model for estimating deadlines and organizing workloads that I haven’t seen elsewhere. You assign points to each task corresponding to how long you think it will take. The points are relative to each other, not time. So if you decide that changing the colors in the header is a one point task, you might decide that adding some validation to a form is a two point task, and totally rewriting the login system is a five point task.

Then, rather than assign tasks to releases or milestones, you create releases and arrange your various tasks as needing to happen either before or after said release. As you work and close out tasks Pivotal calculates how fast you work. Based on how fast you’re working and how much needs to be done, Pivotal will estimate when you’ll be finished (and whether you’ll hit your deadline if you’ve set one).

It’s an imperfect system, sure. First and foremost, every member of the team needs to be on the same page with their point estimations. Second, the UI is completely non-intuitive. I had to actually watch the help videos to understand what was going on. Each team likely has multiple projects, but switching between projects is a clunky process. And the various reports and charts seem scattered and hard to find.

After getting over the UI though, I love Pivotal Tracker. As someone who has an “amazing and somewhat alarming thirst for points” (Chris’s words), seeing my workload broken down visually is very handy. If you turn on the “charts” view you’ll get a graph of how many work units you need to plow through to release on time versus your current rate of work. It helps turn a mountain of endless tickets into something more organized and paced.

I’ll be interested to see how well the time estimates work. In order to provide useful estimates it needs at least a month worth of history, so it will be a little while before we get a really accurate reading for our team.

Startup Life

Big Changes Ahead

The past week has been eventful, to say the least.

I’m excited to announce that starting in August I’ll be joining the team at, working with their development team to launch the next version of their site. SkillSlate is a company that focuses on connecting freelancers and independent contractors with clients. Having spent the last two years freelancing and running my own business, I’m excited to work with a team again. I’m also bursting with ideas about various ways the site could be expanded, though I will be careful to avoid the dreaded “you should” in conversations with the rest of the company. It’s a pretty small team right now, so there will be plenty of learning opportunities as it grows. I’m sure I’ll blog about it, at least as much as my NDA allows.

I’m also incredibly sad to be leaving my job at NearlyFreeSpeech.Net. For the past year and a half I’ve worked on their customer support team. This blog, along with most of my other websites, is hosted at NFSN, and has withstood being Slashdotted, BoingBoing’d, Farked, and god knows what other horrible slew of internet traffic. It has been an privilege to work there, and I will continue to be a happy customer of theirs. If you are a command line ninja who can talk to humans (via email), you might want to consider being my replacement. Drop me a line (kellbot at gmail dot com) with some background and I’ll pass on the details.

As for my own startup, it’s on the back burner for now. We had a catch-22 where we couldn’t get funding without building the site first, but as freelancers we never had time to build the site without money. I still think it’s a good idea, but it will be a few years before I’m able to devote resources to it. The good news that after a few years of getting paid a real salary I’ll be able to fund my own projects. The new job is a great opportunity, one that was essentially dropped in my lap. But I can’t move forward without a longing look towards all the things I’m leaving behind, particularly a great part-time job and the luxury of working in my PJs until noon.


Coworking at Home

Earlier this month I found myself going stir-crazy being at home by myself all the time. Anyone who works in an office might thing I’m crazy – a space all to yourself away from your irritating coworker sounds amazing! But freelancers and other solo business owners know what I’m talking about.

I looked into the various coworking spaces in the area, and found them to all be a bit more than I was willing to spend or a bit farther than I was willing to travel. Instead, I reorganized my office out of the living room and into the spare bedroom. Now in order to work, I have to leave my toys, and when I’m downstairs relaxing I can’t be trying to sneak work in.

But it’s still a bit depressing to go sit in the spare bedroom by myself all day every day. So today a friend of mine who is a fellow freelancer came by for some home-based coworking. And it was all in all a success. There are a couple things that I think helped contribute to the usefulness, and some things we probably should have done:

Get off the couch

Being able to work from the couch, or bed, or hammock, is one of the perks of being self-employed. And while it’s great for a change of scenery, it’s not the most productive setting for most people. You probably already have a desk, but official canadian pharmacy make sure your guest coworker has a chair and a table on which to work.

Your coworker should not have to fight for space.

Clear a workspace for your friend

No one wants to work on the corner of your dining room table, sandwiched between your to-be-filed bills and that box of Christmas ornaments you keep forgetting to put away. Find a space you can clear off, where your friend can work comfortably without feeling cluttered. They should have enough room for their laptop and a mouse, and maybe even a real monitor if they so desire.

Have some snacks handy

Keeping some snacks and drinks on hand will reduce the temptation to go out for food, something companies like Google figured out long ago. Carrots, grapes, rice cakes, yogurt, and trail mix are all good to have around. Messy snacks like cheetos, oranges, and other things likely to get on your hands are less ideal. If you do decide to stock the fridge with snacks to share, let your friend know where they are, along with cups/plates, so they don’t have to bug you every time they want a glass of water.

Shut up

If you’re working with a good friend, it’s tempting to socialize instead of work. A few quick conversations is fine, but you really should let each other get things done. If the temptation to gossip is too strong, consider setting up your work stations so you don’t face each other.

Set a quitting time

Don’t let your friend be an enabler to bad work habits. And yes, working all night long is a bad habit. Your life needs some balance. Pick a time for your work day to end, at which point both of you should leave your office (or convert it back to the living room it was before). If you want to go out later for drinks or whatnot, letting your guest go home to have dinner, do a load of laundry, etc will keep their day from feeling super long.