Observations and arguments.

Archive for GTD

Making time

The Boy sustained a body temperature in the range of 102 to 104 degrees for more than twenty hours yesterday through this morning. This after a night of fever spikes of shorter duration, high enough (103.8) to launch us into a middle-of-the-night pretend-we’re-not-freaking-out-isn’t-this-fun-buddy? bathtime.

By the same time last night (circa 2 a.m.) the panic had dulled to a slowly eyeball-gnawing fear, while rocking The Boy as his tiny body convulsed involuntarily every three or four minutes, as the fever sprinted from his head to his neck to his arms to his tummy to his feet and back again.

But as with so many aspects of Parenthood and now Home Ownership all my plans for yesterday and -evening were shot to the outlying regions of Hades. Which plans included a few minutes for Writing.

But my left brain is dragging, and caffeine isn’t offering much of a corrective.

Even this shabby attempt at generating words in consecutive sequence continues to be interrupted by random thoughts and their concomitant web searches.

Not finding much of anything I’m looking for, either. But that’s also a function of the limited search criteria I can come up with in this impaired functioning state.

Oh, what a useless post.

Better luck tomorrow, I trust.


Pat Sat on Hat

Now that I have myself become a Homeowner*, I have begun to have new and different kinds of conversations with other Homeowners, mostly revolving around issues of maintenance and repair and of course the concomitant costs.

(Thankfully I have discovered other Homeowners who are not merely ambivalent about these costs, but who have done the math and openly acknowledge that they have become imprisoned in what amounts to a dangerous Ponzi scheme–cf. future post, “Doing the Math.” But that is not my main point here.)

Which means that with each minute and every ten dollars spent on a horsehair lobby brush for sweeping up very fine dust in my garage and basement I pull the hat that is Homeowner down more firmly upon my head.

But there are only so many minutes in the day in which to inhabit any particular identity, and in opposite corners of the polygon you have got: Husband (which large multiset encompasses Friend, Lover, Roommate, Financial Partner, et al.), Father, Son, Friend, Employee, Writer, Musician, Band Manager, Filmmaker, and I’ll stop now because we’ve gone past the things I no longer even pretend I have time for.

This is not just a matter of Getting Things Done, because as transformative as that damn *IN* box and stack of index cards have become I do cling to the belief that there are levels to Being that defy the call of the next action.

And while upon the birth of the boy I accepted with no amount of grace that I cannot be good at my Job AND a good Husband AND a good Father, the choice to be merely adequate as a Husband is unacceptable (because, look how well that worked out last time), and the prospect of mere adequacy as a Father seems deeply unsatisfying.

But to the extent that external interactions and conditions work to determine which hat one is wearing, the 55+-hour work and commute week represents nearly half of my available time awake each week. So that to have any chance of properly structuring my priorities I am faced with the choice to consciously diminish my professional competence. Energy that I had previously directed towards a Job Well Done I am now attempting to direct towards Doing My Job Poorly.

I have no way to assess whether I am coming out ahead in the amount of energy and passion available to my roles as Husband and Father but I can gleefully write that this post has been written on Company time.

Which to return to the beginning of the thought I must also now take care not to leave the Homeowner hat on for too long at a stretch. To abandon a degree of conscientia in matters of home maintenance (but not in mortgage payments, because: I am not THAT stupid).

Meaning so while I’ve got a date marked on my calendar next year for me to drain my water heater:

I might opt to let it slide another year.

*A fiction in which the banks that hold my dual mortgages refer to me as the Homeowner in correspondence, and tell me they’re merely holding the title “for safekeeping.”

Getting Dinner Done

Piling upon a friend’s kind suggestions to help make meal planning easier in a comment to a previous post, I’d like to offer what was once for us (and can be again) a nearly leakproof meal planning system for which everyone should pay me* money it is so brilliant.

So JD and I were bemoaning the time- and energy-suck of the post-work decision re: what’s for dinner, given the available ingredients previously purchased at the farmer’s and/or super market. Which emotional toll only increased as JD’s pregnancy evolved.

Wouldn’t it be great, JD supposed, if someone could just tell you what to make for dinner?

A simple enough solution presented itself: actually planning each meal in advance, so that when one came home, the evening’s meal had already been decided upon, and all the ingredients were on hand.

As it turned out, this gambit merely moved the despair earlier in the timeline—to the moment of shopping. Standing in the store with a fresh bunch of e.g. asparagus one is now faced with the decision: roasted as accompaniment for chicken? pan fried asian-style? omelette? or–wait, there was a new asparagus recipe in Cook’s Illustrated that I wanted to try but I don’t remember what it was so I don’t know what ingredients to get.

Moving the point of decision backwards still to the preparation of the shopping list was the next logical step. Three hours of poring through cookbooks later JD realized we did not have the time to repeat this process each week. There had to be a better way.

(JD had done most–that is to say: all–of the legwork to reach this point where the Good Idea occurred. My role was merely to affirm that it was, in fact, a Good Idea.)

Which brings us at last to:

a stress-decreasing meal planning system
for busy people of sufficient means
to be able to choose the food they eat

1. Create a rotating list of food genres
2. For each day in which you intend to make dinner in the coming week, plan a meal within the next genre on the list. New day, new genre.
3. Shop and cook accordingly.

1. Creating your genres

Let’s begin with our initial genre list as an example (yours will vary based on taste and skill):

– meat –
– leftovers –
– mexican –
– eggs/breakfast –
– fish –
– foraging –
– soup/casserole –
– italian –
– sandwiches –
– asian –
– wild card –

In our language, leftovers meant a new dish based upon the meat cooked the night before. (Extra helpings were brought to work as lunch and/or frozen.) Foraging meant looking simply at what’s around. Often this meant yogurt, cereal, or Morningstar Farms corn dogs. Wild card was anything goes: a repeat of another genre, an otherwise absent genre, foraging or takeout.

It is important that the number of genres you create is not evenly divisible by the number of days per week you will make dinner. For most people that’s seven; for some with standing weekly commitments it could be five or six. (So long as “Meat” doesn’t always fall on a Tuesday, you’re good.) Extra wild card and foraging nights are good tools to help make the math come out right.

Do not fret about whether you have developed an exhaustive, properly ordered list right out of the gate. You will likely revisit the list after two or three rotations and make adjustments.

And, to make the rearranging process easier, you can keep your list as a small stack of index cards, with one genre per card (also not my idea).

2. Planning your meals

Prior to your shopping trip, sit down with your index cards and identify which genre will fall on which day of the coming week. Then brainstorm a meal for that night based within that genre.

The beauty of the system is its ability to adapt to the needs of a particular night and your ambition on any particular week.

So, for example, soup/casserole on a Tuesday might mean thawing a frozen soup from the market’s deli, but on a Sunday with an open afternoon soup/casserole might mean one of those crazy lasagnas you’ve always wanted to try out of the Moosewood Cookbook.

Similarly, meat on a Tuesday might mean a steak fried in a skillet with salt and pepper, but on a lazy weekend might mean a two-day cassoulet.

Some users of the system write meal ideas on the index cards for each genre, so that in future weeks when feeling uninspired they have a handy list of meal ideas at the ready.

3. Shopping and cooking accordingly

Now you can be one of those people who arrives at the market with an actual list of ingredients for a pre-planned menu for the week. And one of those people who remembers to get up ten minutes early to prep your slow-cooker meal before heading out the door, because each day you know what’s on for dinner.


Wait, why should I adopt this system?
Because the cards help narrow the choice of “What’s for dinner three days from now?” from a limitless** set of possibilities to a small set of possibilities, using at least two vectors: genre and day of week. Seasonally available ingredients can help create a third vector, making the decision even easier. As any management self-help book will tell you, the fewer options to choose from, the simpler (and therefore less stressful) the decision.

You will experience less decision-making stress at the market, because you will know what you are shopping for. That also means spending less money on impulse purchases, which means less food that you purchase will go to waste. You will also experience a decrease in stress on your commute home from work, because someone (you, in the past) has already decided what’s for dinner, and has already shopped for all the ingredients you need. You can focus simply on the action steps required to prepare it once you arrive.

Doesn’t this system kill the spontaneity of discovery at the farmer’s market?
Only if you let it. Bring your index cards or meal calendar with you to the farmer’s market, and make your meal decisions based on a confluence of produce and genre. Will you adapt that eggplant into a casserole or grill it with some fish? Also, if you don’t feel like making a Mexican dish out of spaghetti squash, skip Mexican and change the day to wild card.

So if the card says “Asian” and I don’t want to make Asian this week, can I skip it?
Um. Who’s in charge, the index card or you? If it happens a lot you could consider removing Asian from standard rotation and leaving the option of Asian for Wild Card nights.

Can I use repeating events in Outlook or iCal (etc.) to determine what genres fall on what days?
Knock yourself out. The index cards are hard to beat. Your digital-based calendar is quite useful for recording your meal decisions once you’ve made them, so that while you’re at work you can confirm that tonight you need to stop at the store on the way home to get lemons.

For Getting Things Done nerds there is also the option of keeping a tickler file box of recipes coded to your genres. This works similarly to the idea (mentioned above) of writing recipe ideas on each index card, but allows for future recipes you’ve never made before. Want to make that Marcella Hazan fricasseed chicken someday? Drop a copy of the recipe in your “Poultry” or “Italian” folder (or both) and you’ll be reminded next time you’re looking for inspiration.

*Even though, admittedly, it was not my idea to begin with.
**Fine, yes, mr. or ms. smarty pants, there are limits.