Hell in a Handbasket

I don’t know about any of you, but lately I’ve been feeling like the world has started to go to hell in a handbasket.

In fairness, this could be because I have recently started to read Twitter again after a long absence, but I suspect that does not adequately explain my feelings.
I feel like I am watching the splitting of social bonds and the norms that held them together; but I worry about overstating it and appearing to be that person wearing a “the end of the world is nigh” board on a bright summer’s day.

The culprit that is blighting my sense of community stability? The internet and social media.

Is it ironic that I am making this observation on the internet and this blog posts to social media?  Why yes, it is.

So what’s my gripe with it then?

Well, it seems to me that social media is to our deteriorating social bonds as human industry is to global warming. Both add to the heating up of things and do almost as much damage to human society as they do good.

Let me be clear, I am not a Luddite, but I have begun to fear the power of the social media and internet echo chamber.  This article by Birender Ahluwalia lays out a number of the key points of how echo chambers came to be, thanks to human nature, and how they are now even more self-selecting in the social media age.  The most worrying statement in the article, I think, is:

…presenting any contrarian information leads to a further entrenching of beliefs.

It’s this accelerated echo chamber of social media that has shone through as underpinning the recent lurches to “illiberal democracy” in long-time “liberal democracies”.  Realising this has made me shudder and, after the two most notable examples of Brexit and the US election, I have been spending a large amount of my free time reading about how that came about.  This New York Times article would be a good starting point if you wanted an overview.

Prior to these events I would have said that I was relatively apolitical.  Not apathetic, just not as aware or engaged in learning and thinking.
The more I have read, the more my existing feelings about what sort of society I want to live in have crystallised.   I most certainly do not want to live in an illiberal democracy.  I do not want to see a widening gap between the most wealthy and the least.  I do not want to see my kids priced out of their own homes, should they choose ownership as an option.  I do not want to look at my neighbours in Asia, the Americas or anywhere else as a “threat” to my livelihood.  (After all, they have a livelihood to earn too!)
I want our country to face this without ideology, as this statement from the NY Times article, states:

We need better systems for buffering people against disruption, even as we recognize that disruption is inevitable.

Ideology and rhetoric do not work out those ‘better systems’ – pragmatism does. And a willingness amongst the greater population to feel that their fellow citizens (both within the country and within the world) deserve a fair shake at things.

This may, in fact, require a bit of sacrifice.  And if there’s one thing people aren’t great at, it’s personal sacrifice for the good of others.
They may be willing to give up stuff for their own greater good – if they’ve figured out that delayed gratification works – but that guy over there?  Hmm, that’s a toughie.  Is he a good guy?  Does he share my values?  My faith? (Or non-faith?) Is he inclined to be a bit lazy? Uhhmmm, not so sure about giving up my little bit of paradise for that lazy one!  And I made it up from a poor start, so can they!  (Only your poor start was forty or fifty years ago when it was still, just, possible to live and save on a single income.)

You get the idea.

But there’s reasonable proof that self-sacrifice for the wider societal good benefits everyone.  Lower levels of inequality impact positively on everyone – not just the poorest folk.  Check out the list here for some insight.

It turns out I’m still apolitical – but only in regards to not being ideologically connected to any specific political party.

What a political party needs to offer me this election year is evidence based, pragmatic solutions to inequality; not ideological platitudes, not bribes to line my own pocket, not excuses, not “them or us” rhetoric (*lazy* folk or foreigners alike), but an actual answer that will go some way to stalling and reversing the widening gap between the haves and the have nots.  I want it for the ‘have nots’ and I want it for myself.  I want to live in a liberal democracy that gives a damn about everyone, and has no truck with the divisive echo chamber politics that have reared their ugly head overseas.

And I will no longer sit by silently thinking this to myself but not saying it out loud for fear of offending people or losing friends.

Miss Oh Waily

A decade ago

As the tenth anniversary of my very first labour arrives, I am very mindful of this quote by Gretchen Rubin,

“The days are long, but the years are short.”

As a parent, I don’t think there has ever been a more apt description of the special fluidity of time that engulfs you and your child.  Each day seems interminable; then all of a sudden it is a whole decade since you first held a little person in your arms.

Life becomes a blur of constant growth and milestones.  And then a big one sneaks up on you.

Miss Oh Waily is turning ten.  Double digits.  Her first full decade on Earth with us.

She is absolutely wonderful, and infuriating.  Generous, kind and thoughtful.  Soft-hearted and funny, alternating with stubborn insistence, and directness. A true mix of characteristics.

She loves all things elephant, especially still her Lumpy. She enjoys Guides and swimming, and is currently missing her old gym class.  She is mastering origami and loves to give gifts.

She is growing up in to a lovely, kind, caring, assertive and thoughtful person.  She knows her own mind and is happy to speak up. I suspect (and hope) she will be a future leader of people.

And we love her with all of our hearts… to the moon and back, to the ends of the solar system and back, and to the ends of the universe and back.  Always and forever, our Miss Oh.

Happy 10th birthday my darling.
– Mum, Dad & Master Oh –

To celebrate, here is one of my favourite photographs of you.



A Simple Task List Hack

Recently I came upon the Autofocus System of task tracking by Mark Forster.  I went to YouTube to see if I could find a video to give a good visual explanation of it, but I ended up watching a video about Forster’s “Final Version” method instead.  And it’s a variation on this that I’m going to suggest as a task hack today.

The system is extremely simple.  Essentially it is a running list of things that you need to do.  Every time you think of something new that needs doing, it gets added to the bottom of your list.  Every time you finish an item on your list it gets crossed off.  Recurring or incomplete tasks are added to the end of the list when you are done with them for now. It couldn’t be more straightforward.

I chose to trial it around the house in place of a set cleaning schedule and a specific de-cluttering task list.

Here’s how I have been implementing it.

I took my pad of paper and a pen, stood in the middle of my bedroom and took stock of everything that needed to be tidied, cleaned or removed.  I wrote down all the obvious things that needed to be done. Things like ‘put passports away’ were listed alongside ‘clean window sills’ and ‘vacuum the floor’. I moved on to my bathroom and by the end of that I had a full page of tasks to tend to.

Really? One page and I had only been through two rooms!  Holy moly!  Lots of work to get on top of.  So I started.

I started by reading through the list I had made and, driven by my need to get some small wins under my belt, I chose smaller tasks that maximised visual impact.  I cleared up ten out of the sixteen tasks in the bedroom and five out of fourteen tasks in the bathroom.

The following day I re-wrote the list for the unfinished items in the bedroom and bathroom, then went on to add items for the living room, dining area and kitchen.  At this point I stopped when the list had reached two pages long!

By day three I was able to get enough tasks completed that I could add another two and a half rooms, plus note what laundry was waiting to be done.

Each day I was able to make small, but noticeable gains in multiple rooms, while maintaining the successes of the previous day. It was super simple to create the list – all of 5 minutes each day, and really encouraging to see the list shrink and the house become tidier and cleaner.

My big goal is to eventually get all of my household tasks on to the two pages or less.  I know that this will fluctuate depending on how much time I have to spend on these tasks, how much mess we make and what season of the year it is.  But I believe it will be possible.

Here are some observations about why I think this hack may actually work, even if it does fluctuate back and forth a bit.

– I organised the list of things to do in to logical sections – rooms.
– I split the jobs in to smaller parts – ‘put away passports’ instead of ‘clear up room’.

Both of these simple changes to the original idea of the “Final Version” long, rolling list, would fit nicely in many organisational guru’s toolkit.  They are forms of chunking; breaking things down in to small steps that the brain can easily deal with.  It reduces decision fatigue or overwhelm as barriers to achievement.
I also noticed that jobs can’t hide if you list them out this way.  “Wipe down the window sills” no longer hides somewhere in “Clean the room”, and voilà it doesn’t get forgotten or overlooked, or avoided.

– I wrote the list out by hand.
– I re-wrote the list each day.

Handwriting out notes is known to improve engagement with what is being written.*   Re-writing also serves this function, as well as ensuring that I see which tasks are being avoided as they reappear daily on the new list.

Like all organisational systems this one is not a cure all.  It still relies on the human trying to use it.  This human will have good days and bad ones, but on the whole I think that the act of creating the list each day connects to my nature as an obliger and a ‘list-ticking’ one at that.  I want to tick off the list and see it shrink.  I get pleasure out of the changing list and the changing environment that comes from it.  It creates a positive snowball effect.

And what gives us pleasure, we repeat.  Because we’re like that.

At this point I wouldn’t use this for organising my important tasks as I know that the list encourages my tendency to go for the ‘easy wins’ first and then work my way up to the bigger, more time-consuming or onerous tasks.  This wouldn’t be appropriate for me in a work environment as I would want the important tasks to take priority rather than the easy, feel-good ones.

If you give this hack a try, I’d love to hear how it works for you.  Thanks for reading.


* I know there’s a scientific study or dozen that backs this up.  If I find a reference to it (them) I’ll pop back and annotate this.

Recommendations, Reflections

Word of the Day: Anhedonia

screen-shot-2017-01-28-at-7-00-29-pmI was reading the New York Times today, as you do, when I was suddenly stopped in my tracks by an unfamiliar word. While the context and parts of the word indicated a similar root as hedonism I needed to head to the dictionary to get a proper definition.   My very spotty understanding and recognition of things Latin, Greek and what-have-you came in handy, but I wanted confirmation of the meaning.
Thank you online Cambridge Dictionary, you came to my rescue and enlightenment.

Today’s word in question is:


a condition in which someone is unable to experience pleasure

Ever met someone who always looks on the gloomy side of life?  Well, maybe I’ve found the word for you when you need to describe them.
I have to confess that you may see this word pop up now that I know it exists. It has such a nice feel to it.