Archive of ‘life hacks’ category

a path not travelled

Last Tuesday, I dropped by the College of Arts and Letters at the University of the Philippines-Diliman. It seems that I had been admitted to the CAL’s PhD Creative Writing program for the second semester this academic year; inadvertently, I was not informed.  I thought I was rejected, and enrolled at the UP College of Mass Communication instead. My fault, really. I should have checked with the CAL staff when I hadn’t heard from them.

At CAL, I took a look at my acceptance letter from Dean Virgilio Almario, and noted that I was required to take only one remedial subject (Comparative Literature 121 or 122). It feels great to know that I have the option of enrolling in that program next semester.

Walking to CMC for class, I was struck speechless yet again by the beauty of the fading afternoon sunlight filtering through the leaves of the trees that line University Drive.

On the right, after AS (Palma Hall) and FC (Faculty Center) is the Vargas Museum and the long stretch to the corner, where I’d have to turn right, walking past Quezon Hall (Administration Building) on the right all the way to CMC, the first structure on the left along Ylanan Street. It was a bit of a ways.

The curb was paved in stone or concrete blocks that were mossy with age, and crooked, like the earth beneath them had taken a deep breath and pushed them out of place. Twenty years ago, as an undergrad, I walked these same curbstones and they were gray as a rainy day.

On the left, though, was an expanse of green. A park. A path cut through the grass. I took it.

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There were electric lampposts in the middle of the park. Lantern Waste in the summer?

I decided to walk through, not knowing where I would end up, if I would be out of my way, lost, late for class. But the path beckoned.

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Every where were trees, and shrubs, and plants whose names I did not know. Green surrounded me. In the midst of the city, I was enveloped by nature.

How come I have no memories of exploring this park two decades ago? I suppose I had never been here; my sneaker-shod feet had never trudged these verdant by-ways. Now I step carefully across a narrow stone bridge spanning a little creek, and pick my way gingerly past rocks and roots that threaten to trip me as I totter along in four-inch tall wedge sandals.

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The path winds behind Quezon Hall.

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It ends at the road parallel to University Drive, across the UP Theater and the Carillon. In other words, it’s a shortcut to CMC from FC.

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I look back at the way I have come. I’m glad I found this path, taken late but better than never at all.

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I emerge into the sunlight. I spy CMC in the distance, at the right.

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In a few minutes, I reach CMC – Plaridel Hall. It is not journey’s end, but it is where I begin a new chapter of my life.

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It’s an obvious parallelism, but I’m an obvious person anyway, so here it is – it’s like life. Taking paths not travelled before to see where they lead, braving the unknown, skirting obstacles, always with courage and with style. Who knows, one of those paths could be a shortcut to your destination, and worth taking, after all.

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inspired invention: intravenous ink

Putting together a magazine requires printing out all the pages to create a mock-up or prototype. With this year’s MARHO Breeders’ Cup official souvenir magazine running to 68 pages so far, that’s a lot of ink and ink cartridges.

Enter the Multi-Colors Continuous Ink System, feeding ink to your thirsty printer cartridges intravenously.

Holes are bored in the printer cartridges. One is right in the center of the black, and others opposite the three different ink chambers – cyan, magenta, yellow – in the color cartridge. Plastic grommets cover the holes and provide tight seals for the ink hoses.

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The ends of the hoses are connected to the the cartridge. The opposite ends of the hoses are attached to the continuous ink system containers.

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Syringes are used to suck air from the ink chambers in the cartridges, forcing ink to flow from the polycarbonate containers of ink.

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Plastic clips placed strategically keep the hoses from tangling in the printer mechanism.

Not only is it less expensive in the long run, it is also more convenient since you don’t have to change cartridges frequently.  With this system, I can also see exactly how much ink I have left – which is important, because I don’t like running out of ink while in the middle of printing out a page.

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todoodlist: simple ways to productivity through paper

Witty Brit writer Nick Cernis offers a simple paper-based productivity and time-management system in his e-book Todoodlist.

Cernis says that complex systems and electronic devices such as PDAs “only add to stress levels.” He explains, “Technology often increases the problem of being productive. It doesn’t always solve it.”

Inspired by methods he developed “to be more productive with less based on my own experience as a fallen gadget geek,” Cernis wrote Todoodlist as a guide for the rest of us. It’s an e-book that “teaches fun ideas and productive methods to get things done using simpler tools that help reduce stress, not compound it.”

What’s in the book? Nick says:

The full contents are split across three handy sections for quick reference:

Part 1) Seven punchy, light-hearted essays exploring our complex lives that tackle the question: “Why’s everything so complex, anyway?” Includes Zen Kitten in a Box and Parrots in Space.

Part 2) Five fun, unmissable, paper-based systems that will change the way you look at pen and paper forever and help you simplify your life. (Don’t miss the story of how I ended up swapping my PDA for a banana!) Features the Todoodlist – a fun way to get things done on paper, and the Sudoku Calendar - another of the deliciously low-tech ideas I use every day.

Part 3) The Five-Step Guide to reduce complexity in your life. Practical advice to help you live simply that you can put into practice and get results with today. Part Three also includes the blueprint for launch, a beautifully simple, one-page printable list of questions to help you launch new projects faster and turn your pipe dreams into reality.

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gtdagenda: keeping you on track

As a busy but usually disorganized writer and manager, I’m always interested in ways to manage my time and tasks. The last thing I want to happen is to let down a client because I forget to send reports on time, or lose my newspaper column because I keep missing deadlines.

I tried the PDA route for about a year and a half, but discarded it after a while. The device was cumbersome (an O2 XDA) and I couldn’t carry it in small handbags or in my pocket. I would also forget to charge it and would often be dismayed to lose my work when the device died on me.

I went back to the old-school paper-based method, and I now use a Hipster PDA and Moleskine Weekly Diary for data collection.

But I then realized my system was incomplete – how could I be reminded of birthdays and other similar occasions? I also needed a backup plan just in case I lost my notebooks.

A web-based system was ideal, but I wanted one that was based on the David Allen GTD (“Getting Things Done”) philosophy, which has helped me increase my productivity at work.

Luckily, I came across the web-based GTDagenda. I checked it out, and here’s what I found:

1. It’s based on the GTD system of Calendar, Projects, Tasks and Next Actions, and Contexts.

Screenshot of the GTDagenda tour

2. It incorporates other time-management principles such as Goals (career and personal).

3. Because it’s flexible, it can be used to implement other systems such as ZTD (“Zen to Done”) and Covey’s “Seven Habits”.

It takes some getting used to, but if you’re aware of GTD basics, you can feel your way around the user-friendly system. Starting out, you can take a “tour” of GTDagenda’s features and how to adapt it to your specific purposes.

The interface is stress-free, using simple fonts in cool blue and green. The layout is minimal and clean, no clutter, making navigation easier.

Once you open your account, you’ll be taken to your page, which has a menu bar at the top – “Goals”, “Projects”, “Tasks”, “Next Actions”, “Checklists”, “Schedules”, and “Calendar”. You’ll see the list of your Tasks immediately, while sidebars contain a Calendar, your Contexts, and Projects.

GTDagenda also helps you prioritize your Goals, Projects and Tasks; links your Projects to Goals; shows if your Tasks are still active or completed; and provides you with a timeline reminder to check if you are still on track.

The “Checklists” option lets you list things that need to be done weekly – “exercise”, “update blog” – with tick-boxes for each day. “Schedules” lists your routine. I don’t think I’ll be using these, but it’s nice to know that they’re there for those who require such structures.

To get into the habit of checking your GTDagenda daily, add the URL to your tab group favorites and click on it first thing when you fire up your PC. My Daily Tab Group includes my Yahoo email, Facebook, and Friendster sign-in pages; my website (jennyo.net); and now, my log-in page for GTDagenda. (Open them all up in succeeding tabs and click on “Add Tab Group to Favorites” on your browser.)

Anything that helps you keep track of things you need to get done, is a good thing.

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gtd, my style

Busy people who also happen to be disorganized often look for methods on how to best manage their time and efforts to achieve optimum results within the specified timeframe. Over years, many techniques have been developed and the choices are varied and confusing. How to tell which way will work best for you?

I’ve found this to be effective: read as much as you can about time-management methods, list down the tips that appeal to you, and through trial-and-error, create your own system that will work with your personal habits and way of thinking.

After going through quite a few systems and planners, I’ve finally developed a system that increased my productivity, wasted less time, and left nothing undone. It’s loosely based on David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” (GTD) action-management method insofar that I free my mind to actually work on tasks “by moving tasks out of (my) mind and recording them externally.”

I’ve tried using large, book-type planners but found them too heavy to lug around in my bag and too unwieldy to use in the field. So I trawled the ‘Net for ideas and came up with this system:

  1. “Hipster PDA” - (bottom left) A sheaf of 3x 5 index cards held customarily by a binder clip or metal ring. I use a pink carabiner to make it easy to flip the cards. This is my “to-do” list. Color-coded cards organize the action tasks by context: blue, “@Work”, pink, “@Home”, white, Projects, because these are the categories that make sense for me.
  2. Dashed notation for action items: – : action item undone; + : done; <-: waiting for another action;   -> : delegated; (-) : moved to another list; * : cancelled/abandoned; and the division sign for ‘on hold’. It is easy to use because you always start with just a dash.
  3. Pocket Red Moleskine 18-month Weekly Diary: (bottom right) For listing appointments, meetings, etc. Its the perfect size for me – small enough to carry in handbag or tuck in pocket, I’m never without it.
  4. Desk planner – (top) With two pages allotted for each day, it’s where I list all the little bits of information that come my way - phone numbers, notes of telephone conversations, sudden inspirations – rather than write them on scraps of paper that can get lost or misplaced. In the GTD system, it’s my “bucket” where I capture the data for later processing.

I also have an 8-1/2 x 11 size three-ring binder with tabbed divisions. Each division corresponds to one project – ex. “Short Story Collection”, “Racing History Book”. It’s where I write down notes, proposals, plans, mind-maps, and the like. I review my binder weekly, and list down action tasks pertaining to current projects in my Hipster PDA.

People get frustrated when choosing one time-management system and forcing themselves to work with it rather than make it work for them. Customizing a system yields better results and will help you on your way to professional and personal productivity.

(Yes, the pen on the Moley and all the pens in the pen-case are fountain pens.)

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new old pens and cases

It’s been about a week since I visited Leigh and took home her lovely, well-kept, vintage Sailor21 and Platinum fountain pens. As I mentioned in my last post, she also gave me a Platinum plastic pen box and a Platinum Preppy fountain pen, as well as carts for the Sailor and an adaptor for the Platinum. Leigh, thanks so much! Yay for Leigh! :-)

She also suggested that I look for the Cheery Mohohon pen cases that she bought at Fully Booked-Bonifacio High Street. Hers was brown. “Get one,” she urged. Alex and Ik happened to visit there a couple days later and Ik got me two, one gray and the other brown, and a gray one for herself.

It really is much better than the usual soft pouches I use, where the pens and stuff all roll about inside, scratching each other up. Inside the Cheery case, the pens are kept separate and safe.

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On the left are the Platinum and Sailor in the Platinum box; and on the right, the Cheery with a Schneider, Inoxcrom kukuxumusu, Parker Jotter FP, Platinum Preppy, Parker Jotter BP, and an Inoxcrom Agatha Ruiz de la Prada.

Just simple things, but they make life sweet.

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vanilla yankee candle

Oyet’s sister Ate Gigi (Ma. Gracia B. Alcasid) introduced me to Yankee Candle products when we visited her in her former home in North Carolina in 2000. She scattered candles in her favorite scents throughout her house. After cooking, for instance, she would light a votive and leave it on the stove for about an hour. After dinner, a Housewarmer jar candle like this one would waft its sweet fragrance as we gathered around the living room to chat.

That time, she took me to the Yankee Candle store at the mall and she let me fill a tray of twelve Sampler votives to take home.

Now that Ate Gi lives in New York, she still has her love for these candles, as I do. During our visit to her last February 2007, I bought a Housewarmer jar in French Vanilla (just like in the picture), a couple of smaller jars in the same scent, and a tray of votives mostly in vanilla-based scents.

The smell of vanilla soothes and calms me. It’s just one of my favorite things, like strawberries and Corelle dishes and Oneida silverplate. Just a single Yankee Candle votive can fill a room with your favorite fragrance.

Think of it as a necessary indulgence, because you have to take care of yourself too.

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ateneo mba defense

Looking back at the events of 2007, I count my MBA defense as one of the most significant.

February 12, Monday, was the date of my oral defense at the Ateneo Graduate School of Business (AGSB), the final academic requirement for my MBA degree. My Strategic Management (Strama) paper was entitled “Manila Jockey Club: Strategic Directions for Thoroughbred Racing”. It was exactly 100 pages, and had quite a few charts, tables, and photos. (“Be creative!” said my Strama professor, Albert Buenviaje.)

I had submitted my paper on the second deadline (Jan 20), 30 days after the first deadline. Prof Buenviaje told us that there would be a deduction of 0.5 from the grade for the paper for those who would submit on the second deadline. So I knew that the highest grade I could get for my paper would be 3.50.

My defense was for 2pm, and my panelists were Professors Buenviaje, Ralph Ante (my Quanti teacher), and Gary Grey (Infote, but I didn’t take him). I went to the Faculty Office to find out the room assigned to me, and there I saw Prof. Ante. He called my name and said, “Galing!” Just that. I said, “Hunh?” he smiled and said he was one of my panelists.

I figured he was referring to my paper, and I thought he was just being nice. But before my defense started, he complimented me again on my paper.

The presentation itself went quite well, considering that I had made the Powerpoint for it just two hours before! Talk about “procastination” and “unpreparedness.”

The entire thing, including Q&A, took only 45 mins (1 hour is the maximum time allowed). I was asked to step out for a minute, and when I returned to the room, my panelists showed me the grading sheet.

All 4.0 across the board! Prof. Buenviaje said that even if my paper was late, he was not going to deduct 0.5 and would give me the full 4.0 for my paper! and that was my final grade as well.

These are my professors’ comments:

Buenviaje and Grey: “Part owner ka ba ng MJC? Kasi the way you write it’s like you own the place. Alam mo lahat.”

Grey and Ante: “Galing, it’s the best paper I’ve read!”

Ante: “It’s the first time I have given a 4.0.”

Grey: “Are you going to write a book? Give me a copy, ha.”

Buenviaje: (big big big proud smile)

Far as I know, I am the only one in our batch that has been given 4.0 for both the paper and the defense. Of course I was very proud and happy. Just last week, one of my classmates, Edmar, told me that I was the only one of our batch who did not have to do a revision of the Strama paper.This is one of the biggest achievements in my life!

Edmar, Gina, Cynthia, me, and Wilma at our graduation ceremony at Ateneo – Loyola in August 2007.

Gina (my classmate) said she talked to Prof Buenviaje a couple of hours after my defense, and she told me that he was “super happy” with my performance. High praise indeed, since Prof Buenviaje is also the Assistant Dean of AGSB and the program director for Ateneo-Regis MBA (the program I took).

Okay, that wraps up that chapter of my life. My deepest thanks go to my sister Aya who paid for my tuition and, most of all, believed that her ate could do it; my kids for the support; my friends for all their help and encouragement. Thank you, all!

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moleskine madness

I had seen them at Fully Booked (PowerPlant mall branch) early or middle of 2008 and thought they were lovely but way, way too expensive for a notebook. But I couldn’t get them out of my head; over the months I’d go back to the store, look at the display, and wonder whether I should finally get one or not.

I’m talking about Moleskines, the hip hot notebook that almost every creative person in the know is carrying around. Moleskines are touted as the notebook used by literary and art stars – Hemingway, Chatwin, Picasso.

“Moleskins” – notebooks with a cover of oilcloth-covered cardboard – have been around for over a hundred years and were made in France by a few select stationers until demand for the old-fashioned notebooks died. The last moleskin notebook maker, based in Tours, France, stopped making them in 1986.

In 1998, the Italian company Modo e Modo revived the old tradition and sold them under the trademark “Moleskine”. And that is how they are known to aficionados – writers, artists, other creatives, the intelligentsia, academics, scientists, and wannabes. Writer Neil Gaiman always carries one.

I must profess my profound admiration for the Modo e Modo marketing machine – from 30,000 in sales early on to more than 3 million now, their hype is certainly effective. Consumers feel that with a Moleskine they can channel the creativity of the artists and writers of the past who used similar notebooks. Farfetched idea, but it’s often observed in anthropology – “sympathetic magic”.

Googling the ‘Net, you’ll see a lot of references to Moleskines. They are used as planners by IT people using “GTD” (Getting Things Done) and other time-management methods after applying “moleskine hacks” (modifications). They are also popular as art albums, scrapbooks, for writing stories in, and as

Moleskines are also available at Powerbooks, but at present stocks are depleted everywhere. Wait till the first week of December to satisfy your Moleskine cravings.

They come in pocket and large sizes, with plain, ruled, squared, and watercolor paper (for the sketchbooks). There are also daily and weekly planners, as well as Japanese albums and memo pockets. The default color is black, but they issued a limited edition red planner for 2008, and not too long ago offered Shantung silk-covered variations in blue, red, green, and plum as part of their Van Gogh Museum collection. The colors do evoke the hues in the painter’s works.

They are expensive, but if you are an aesthete, or one who loves paper and pen, then you must have one. Or more.

I’d like to get two pocket notebooks – one plain and one ruled – and fill them in with words and drawings. Most likely my sketches will be of quilt blocks and quilt designs. The words, strung together, will form essays and other random ramblings.

I can’t wait to curl up with a cup of coffee, some paper, a fountain pen, and ink – with these tools I can create my own new world.

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