I started carrying a notebook around 4 or so years ago. It’s the catchall for ideas, packing lists, sketches, quotes, books I’ve read… everything and anything really.

The best feeling is finishing a notebook – the absolute best feeling! I stick a label and number on it, and add it to my pile.

It makes me smile so much to remember all the little sketches and designs I have done over the years, and the dreaming about being a designer, but feeling like it wasn’t really meant to be because… well… I don’t know why. Because now I’m studying design and the sketchbooks are filling up faster than ever and I am just in heaven.

So if you are dreaming of doing something – please do it. Who cares about making careers of it, or being any good at it. Just marinate in the gloriousness of pursuing it.

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Brown Paper Bags

Life hack!

For some reason I tend to gather little piles of rubbish in places where a bin just doesn’t fit, and it drives us crazy! Tissues next to the bed… paper bits on the desk… pencil shavings next to my makeup… Gah!

So here’s where a $2 bunch of brown paper bags makes an awesome little hack. Just roll down the top a few times and shape the bag so it sits upright. And there you have it – a little collection of messes that can easily be whisked away and replaced with a new bag. Ok, it might not be super attractive, but way better than tissues lying around, right?

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Visual Management: A personal portable kanban

I love productivity systems and personal organisation hacks. Getting Things Done is a personal fave that I once got really into. And as I learn about things like Agile and Lean, I am happily ferreting out nuggets from lots of systems.

So here’s what my life looks like: a plastic folder by Aqua Drops. It’s my ‘work bible’ and is a great idea I picked up from a Kikki K workshop. Now, I’m not always a huge fan of Kikki K’s ‘dream big’ kind of fluff, but the workshops are phenomenal.


In my plastic folder there are plastic sleeves and paper – the rings easily click open and I can arrange things as I need. I keep things like quick references to teleconference numbers and the IT helpdesk number (the stuff that I don’t need, until my computer isn’t working and then I desperately need it). Also, if I’m travelling, I pop things like tickets and hotel details in there.

Inside the folder, I also carry my personal notebook (for doodles and ideas), and my Master To-Do List (where I write everything that I have promised to do). The idea for a Master T0-Do List is something that’s quite central to the Getting Things Done philosophy, where they believe your mind is often unable to focus because it’s trying to remember everything you’ve got to do. By putting it all down on the list, you’re able to trust things won’t be forgotten and get on with doing stuff. I have to say, I’m a huge believer in this, and my Master To-Do List is a big comfort.

However, I have started working in one of those high-volume roles that means I need to keep track of multiple small projects throughout the day. There aren’t particularly a bunch of tasks I need to write in the Master To-Do List, because often I’ve sent out work and I’m waiting for it to come back, or it’s all just routine stuff that isn’t particularly a ‘to-do list’ item. My challenge has been how to keep my eye on all of the projects so nothing falls off the radar.

So in the back of the folder, I’ve now pasted in a personal kanban. Here’s what the whole folder looks like when I’ve got it open on my desk:


And here’s what the full kanban looks like when I turn to the back page of the folder:


The kanban is something I’ve stolen from the Lean/Agile world, and is a quick way to visualise all of the work that’s on the go. Every time a new project comes up, I write a few details on the sticky note, and it lands on my board.

The flow is (from top right hand corner):

Focus – what I’m working on right now (which can be surprisingly helpful when I get interrupted, and can quickly pick up my train of thought – it’s like the answer to my question “now where was I?”)

Today – what I need to touch on today (it’s a great indicator of my capacity for the day)

This week – what’s active, but might not be top priority for today, but I need to keep it on my radar in case it crops up today and still keep working on it

Ice box – everything else that is current and active, but that I don’t need to work on at this moment

Done – closed off, gold star, pat on the back, trophy cabinet, look at all the awesome work you’ve done!

It’s been in action for a couple of weeks now, and it’s working like a treat. My only problem is space, because those squares have filled up with sticky notes very quickly! I’m also working on how to capture all the info I need (i.e. deadlines) without visually cluttering the sticky notes. My aim is to be able to tell my next task, my most urgent items and my capacity, in one glance.

Don’t be fooled though, although I desperately need a certain level of organisation to feel that I am functioning, I am in no way an organisation freak. As of right now, my gmail inbox has 8,855 unread emails… so let’s say I’m happy to let some things slide.

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10 Ways to Cope When Change You Need Isn’t Happening

Maybe you’ve noticed a tweet here and there, or have read into a post of mine? If not, here’s my current predicament: I’m applying for my partner’s residency visa in Australia. It costs an arm and a leg to do, takes a century to complete, and damages the relationship you’re trying to preserve in the process. While you’re at it, they look into every single element of your life and you feel like a cadaver being cut open by med students, except your brain’s not dead. Basically, it’s shit. And I want it more than anything because I need to get off this island! I’m burnt out. I’m overwhelmed. I’m over it. I want to go home with my partner and start a better life.
This is a change I need. This is a change that I have set in motion. This is a change that is now out of my hands and going through the manual mincer with blunt blades called bureaucracy. And in the meantime while we wait (going on 8-9 months now), my head is slowing caving in. But as far as I can find, there’s very little advice on coping with change when it’s something you want and it’s not happening. There’s SO much advice on coping with change you don’t want. There’s a ton of advice on achieving change in your life despite adversity. But nada on dealing with your shit life while you wait, and wait, and wait for the change to maybe, perhaps, ‘this email will be replied to in the next 10 days’, ‘if you don’t reply within in the next 28 days…’, ‘I will be your new migration officer’, ‘I need further documentation on items…’, ‘this case is being transferred to office…’, ‘I will be your new migration officer’, ‘please quote your case number’, ‘I need further documentation on items…’, ‘please feel free to fill out an anonymous customer survey.’

So, they say “write what you want to read.” Here is what I wanted to read:

10 Ways to Cope When Change You Need Isn’t Happening

1. Get support for any addictions you may have. Whether it’s over eating, alcoholism or codependency, this shit is going to rear its ugly head when you face yet another set back (i.e. the document you have issued to the first migration officer isn’t complete enough for the third migration officer). Your support group will get you through this emotional mine before it starts becoming a destructive physical manifestation in your life. I don’t think I could stress how important this is to anyone. And if you are starting to notice things you used to control becoming uncontrollable under the stress, now is the time to seek support.
2. Block out the crap that upsets you about your current before-change-life. Those Facebook pages you ‘liked’ that roll a stream about how fucked up it is here, ‘unlike’ them. It’s just introducing more anger to your day. Those people who give you a look like you’ve started slumming it when they find out your partner is not the ethnic majority or white, cut them out of your life. Under racism simmers a waste-of-your-energy. I don’t listen to local radio, read local news, or look at local websites. For all purposes, Singapore politics and popular opinion does not exist to me. It may seem like ignorance and weakness, but right now I’m a mouse swimming in a bucket of milk – I need to focus on the swimming before I start panicking because I noticed that this milk has turned sour and will never become butter.
3. Stop dreaming about your after-change-life. Stop planning, stop meeting people in preparation for future networks, stop thinking about the logistics for moving, stop watching tv programs that trigger your dreams. You are in your current life, and it’s shit, but it can be made bearable if you work on where you are. The time for dreams and excitement will come when the change happens. In the meantime, you are intentionally taunting yourself with things out of your power to achieve. That’s a dumb way to live.
4. Take back the announcement about the change. Explain that there have been complications, and for the near future, at least 12 months, circumstances will not be changing in your life. Whether it’s true or not, that powerful sentence is the key to avoiding lonely times as friends prepare to move on from you and invitations dry up – haven’t you left yet? Put it on Facebook, tell it to people when they ask how it’s all going, and just make sure that the general vibe around your social life isn’t one of purgatory. 

5. Inconvenience yourself for your mental health. The most upset I’ve ever been was after shopping at the local supermarket. The rudeness, staring and being shouted at by the checkout-grandma (because she was annoyed I didn’t use a basket without realising she had collected all of them behind her), left me weeping uncontrollably when I got home. I don’t shop in the heartlands any more. I shop in the expat supermarkets that cost twice the money, have enough shopping baskets and the other customers have witnessed a blonde female before. I’m going to stop taking the MRT in peak hour too. It’ll take me triple the time to get home after work, but at least I won’t have tears in my eyes after yet another short balding woman places her whole body against mine and proceeds to drop her dandruff on my clothes. Singapore has a balding dandruff problem in its female population, I kid you not!

6. Step up your personal presentation. Start for the vanity, keep going for the sanity. Exercise, get your hair looking fabulous every day, exfoliate, whiten your teeth, plan sharp outfits, throw out old underwear, polish your shoes. Captive animals can still groom themselves.

7. Break the loop of mulling over the short cuts you could have taken to make the change happen already. I don’t want to convert, but under the Sharia Law enforced in Singapore, I would have to convert if I wanted to marry my partner. It’s an easy wound to pick at with thoughts of how much faster this migration process would have been (and probably far less intrusive) if we just had been married first. It’s a stupid wound to pick at. Acceptance of this shit situation is only going to come from acceptance over the path taken, and this includes trusting that you really did try to make the smartest decisions you could at the time.

8. Explore ways to practice peace. The discontentment burning in my belly is making me a very angry person, and anger makes me a bitch that nobody likes to be around. Practicing peace right now seems such a foreign concept to me, I am so angry about so much of my life. Religion isn’t my thing either. So I look to a man that inspired me so much as a kid; Nelson Mandela. He’s going to become my patron saint of acceptance and practicing peace. He sat in that jail 27 years, and while I doubt he was at peace with the situation, we was a peaceful person in the situation. 27 years! I have some serious grace I could be channeling in my 3 year stint in Singapore. If you’re religious, now might be the time to dig for divine peace.

9. Pain is weakness leaving the body, your resilience will make you stronger but not happier. My time in Singapore is not bringing me much happiness. I am burnt out and in desperate need of some square meter space to myself! You would think my point before would mean that peace will increase my happiness. But no, peace is just accepting that my negative factor is high. There are two sides to happiness, the negativity and the positivity – they are not related, increasing one will not decrease the other, and increasing one will not increase the other. So making peace with the amount of negativity in my life isn’t going to increase the positivity. And this step is about making peace with the fact that the amount of positivity in my life will probably be jack shit, but that it’s ok. The change may never happen, and I may never be properly happy again – perhaps even worse case scenario I will have to choose between my partner in Singapore and my mental health. It’s ok not to be a cheery person all the time. It’s ok to be grateful for good things in your life and still feel neutral. You’ve made enough peace to ward off being unhappy, but now you’re also making peace with not being happy.

10. Refuse to let the shit situation make you a shit person. Serve others. Practice gratefulness. Give incredible gifts. Try to be polite in an impolite society. Laugh lots. Force yourself to smile for no reason. Look at photos of loved ones. Keep in touch with important people. Make birthday phone calls. Write funny FB statuses. Ask for help, and allow people to help you. Cook great meals. Drink fabulous cocktails. Dance around the house. Donate your spare change at the supermarket. Just do things that a normal good person does, that means they still have a beating pulse, a conscience and a purpose to live.

I’m living it, I really hope you’re not, but if you are, comment or email me. I’d love to hear how you have/are coping with limbo! Sharing is a service (look at point 10).

Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

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Task Based Time Management is for Stingy Losers

Every morning I commute to work by taxi. The fact that it costs nearly S$100,000 for a Certificate of Entitlement to merely purchase a car in Singapore has excluded me from the car ownership club. And the fact that it halves my commute time to travel by taxi rather than MRT, and that it takes one third of the time to travel by taxi rather than bus made my decision quite easy. Yet I am constantly met with criticism from people who do and don’t own cars in Singapore, because it’s just so expensive to travel by taxi in the morning.
At first that criticism stung, because I’m not good at taking criticism lightly. It also took me a little while to see the criticism as a cultural norm for Singaporeans rather than rudeness – money and how others spend it is open for conversation. Eventually I was able to meet that criticism with the reasoning that my partner doesn’t usually get home until after 9pm, and for us to spend time together I prefer to stay up late with him instead of going to bed early to catch public transport. But now I’m just going to shut it down with this:
“Values Based Time Management is expensive.”
After I walk away, people will look perplexed and then decide I’m a dick. But I don’t care, because I doubt they could answer these questions, like where do we get this ridiculous premise that a life well lived means being stingy? That it means having the Best One at the Best Value? That it requires huge decision making and reasoning in order to be valid?
Louis CK nailed it in this stand up routine from his television show Louie, summed up best as: “when he describes the absurdly arduous job of the consumer to research his or her purchases by reading long reviews online from people crazy enough to, “murder-suicide their entire family,” after describing the “counter intuitiveness” of a Blu-Ray player remote.” (I highly recommend listening to the routine, it is actually very funny.)
Personally, I think it comes from our traditional concept of Time Management as being about tasking and micro managing aspects of our life so we will have time later for more important things. It’s that good old delayed gratification thinking, which Carrie from Sex and The City sums up so well: “But isn’t delayed gratification the definition of maturity?”
No Carrie – it’s all bullshit.
Those hours we are investing for later will never come. They will be used on other tasks or emergencies. The only time we’ve got the ability to spend is this very minute, as of right now. So effective time management for me looks like investing in my values of nurturing deep relationships with family, being a good friend, owning beautiful things I like and enjoy, staying open minded and being creative. Because when I die, those are the things I will have treasured – not a completed to-do list that would later allow time for those things.
So why doesn’t everyone just do that? What’s the point of this blog post? 
Ummm – because it’s fucking expensive to live that way.
The minutes I’m spending on my values now actually cost money, rather than the future hours I am supposedly investing for that will only cost me at that time (which is never). 
This is what the monetary out lay looks like:

Penelope Trunk said it way better in her post titled 5 Time management tricks I learned from years of hating Tim Ferriss. Interesting title, but awesome take away. Effective time management ultimately comes down to what is the most important thing to value, and that is good relationships.
Task Based Time Management is for losers who believe the concept of delayed gratification actually applies to time. When we’re smarter than that and aren’t stingy, we pay those few extra dollars to enjoy the instant gratification of investing in our values. Straightaway our lives feel purposeful and centered, and in most books that’s a pretty excellent return on investment.

And you know how I know? Because when I pay that big taxi fare in the morning, it actually makes me feel pretty good to put my money where my heart is – time with my loved ones.

Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

This couldn’t fit in the post, but I thought it’s a great article about learning to let go of getting the Best One at the Best Value, so I wanted to share Wendy Harmer’s piece of Too Much Choice is Bad For You. It can be the tough step in between being a task based time manager and starting to manage your time by values – that step of accepting things that are “good enough”.

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