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Personal Process Improvements

Since an exchange with Ray a couple months ago, I’ve been thinking more about my personal processes, and how ad hoc they are — and how ad hoc everyone’s personal processes are. There are all these basic tasks that we each figure out how to do our own way.

Some of that probably makes sense — that we figure out a system that works for the way we think and what we need to do — but also, probably a lot of us could have processes that work better? I certainly realized, in explaining my process for writing posts on this digital garden, that the process I’ve developed is… more steps and more complicated than it needs to be. What other processes do I have on auto-pilot that, frankly, suck?

Many systems have been developed for time and task management, and for email* — if you seek them out. How many people do?

And what about for everything else? Sure, there is no one answer that will work for everyone, but how many of us have created Rube Goldberg workflows unintentionally?

We focus so much on which tools to use that we often overlook how we use them in the big picture. There are tutorials on how to accomplish XYZ task using a tool, but not so much piecing it together into a whole process. (Or maybe I’m reading the wrong blogs.) (I do recall noticing Photo Cascadia sharing some photography workflows.) I’ve included a few of my favorite “mental tools” (e.g. kanban, travel binder, card ) tangential to my processes on my “uses” page.

(This too is an organizational question — does my “uses” page belong here or on my traditional blog? I could make the argument for either — here is a brain dumping ground so my process is relevant — but Cascadia Inspired is where my more polished work goes so my process and tools are relevant there too 🤔 I moved my “now” page over here…)

* Speaking of email, I was chatting with some friends the other day about the different ways we manage our email. I’m the Inbox-is-my-to-do-list person because if it’s not somewhere I’ll see it constantly I’ll forget it. Unfortunately my workplace has an inbox deadline of 90 days after which things are deleted, so I have to dump things into a folder called “SORT ME” which of course a) is never sorted and b) I never look at so it becomes my oubliette. A friend says she aggressively uses rules to sort things — which I don’t think would work for my style of work at all.

I hear the constant lamentation in the email world that no one looks at their Gmail promotions tab and I’m like who are all these people, it’s not that hard to click on the other tabs? But clearly most people don’t, from the extent of complaints.

(I had the problem at work of being sent to the sp*m oubliette — frick, email needs its own blue check system or whatever so local government can actually reach people who sign up for their lists. But also Twitter hasn’t verified my government account either so.) (Also here I wish I knew how some other people have asides on their websites because I don’t want to delete this tangent but it’s more of a footnote. Add it to the to-do list!)

(I can’t imagine how hard it is to create software and try to guide people’s usage, or to accommodate many types of usage — makes me think of Pinterest where they anticipated men would use it for research or something and instead it turned into a haven for women’s crafting and recipe saving.)

Why don’t businesses provide guidance to their employees on some of this stuff? Or even schools or colleges offer a Workflows 101 kind of class? Even sharing multiple “schools of thought” — like for email, Inbox Zero or touch-it-once or Cal Newport’s form response approach, dickish as it is — could probably guide a lot of people to more effective practices. I feel like this is what I used to read Lifehacker for before they got gutted.

^ is this my million dollar skillshare class idea? 😎

Sometimes the bosses are the ones who need a process update, so we don’t wind up LARPing our workdays and making sure our activity light stays green. And realizing that physical presence doesn’t necessarily result in the outcomes they want. 😒

There’s also the issue of not realizing there’s new and better practices available — if you’re not staying up on the personal knowledge management world have you heard of digital gardens? Did you hear about GTD but don’t know new systems that have come out since then? (No wonder staying up to date on industry standards and best practices is part of my job description 🤔)

What’s got me going on this tonight is finances. Our financial system is super complicated for normal people to manage, and I’m in a place where I have enough money that I need to manage it well but not enough I can pay a pro to do it for me. Especially if I have any hope of FIRE 🔥

I’ve been using the same spreadsheet to track my portfolio since 2014; since then both I and DH have changed jobs and have gained many additional accounts to manage. We’re up to eleven different accounts I’m tracking, through six services. I’ve already merged two old 401k’s into DH’s new one, still have one more to go — which will get me down to ten 😒 🥳

(I’m glad that personal finance became a special interest in my early twenties or I don’t know where I’d be. I inherited a chunk of money at 20 that made me learn about investing because I was panicked I’d squander it (the lawyer told my mom not to tell me because he thought I’d blow it all shopping and shit, screw you dude that became part of my house down payment and a trip of a lifetime to Turkey 😒).)

I need to reorganize the information in a way that will be easy for me to update and analyze. I need to be able to see our overall portfolio, breakdown by class, and breakdown by traditional retirement accounts we can’t access until our sixties versus “early retirement accounts” aka traditional investment.

Is this what people use Quicken for? Or Mint? Or is there some other tool? Currently I manually update this spreadsheet every six weeks. Which is clearly dumb work. I guess I need to go scour the MMM forum and/or Motley Fool forum for tips, so I can work smarter 😉

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at tracy.durnell@gmail.com. She/her.

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