Sit. Ann, Sit.

My dog Henry lunged at the dog food as it left the scoop and fell towards his bowl.  I hate when he does this and immediately corrected him.  “Sit, Henry, Sit.”  He sat and I continued putting the food in his bowl.  He  waited for me to release him with an okay and then started eating.

Later I was thinking about this in context of my own meditation practice.  I really just wanted to tell myself:  Sit, Ann, Sit!  I have not maintained any sort of continuity in my practice and even though I know it will benefit me, I still have not done anything when really all I need to do is just sit.  Of course if it was that simple, we’d all be doing it.

A few weeks ago, I ran across Susan Piver’s Open Heart Project, which she started last year to help people learn meditation.  Starting in June, in addition to the free, ongoing instruction she offers through the project, there will be a more in depth training for what I think is a very reasonable annual fee.

I have been following along since I signed up for the newsletter and have found her style both appealing and accessible.  I’ve already turned a few friends on to it.

Why am I telling you all of this?  Well, since starting Civil Civil Servant I have had people ask me about meditation and while I have taught a couple of people some very basic techniques, I mostly encourage them to try a meditation class.  You don’t have to go to a Buddhist organization to learn meditation.  Some folks learn at a yoga class, or take a course through community education or learn in a stress reduction class.  I think it’s nice to have an ongoing instructor because sometimes things come up in your practice and you have questions.

The instruction offered through the Open Heart Project is quite good and because it is something you learn online, you don’t even have to feel uncomfortable in front of other people.  I have felt uncomfortable going to a  new place to meditate; so, I know that feeling.  This let’s you try it out in a safe, easy way.

So.  Check it out.  It might be the introduction to meditation you’ve been hoping to find.

And if you need a good reason.  Maintaining a meditation practice in study after study has been found to reduce stress and anxiety, relieve symptoms of depression, help control chronic pain, improve immune system function, lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health.  Studies have connected meditation with improved ability to concentrate, improved sleep and reduction of memory loss as one ages.  It can help you with substance abuse problems, depression and hyperactivity.  And really, the research in this area is young.  We are just starting to learn all the startling and significant benefits.

Good luck!

Bridge Repair

Sometimes we burn bridges.  We might not mean to do it or at the time, we might not care that we are doing it.  But, at some point, we might wish to repair it.  I’m one of those folks that finds it hard to believe that a burned bridge can’t be fixed.  I suppose in some circumstances this is true; but, I tend to think that there are ways to repair these severed relationships.

Hopefully, you are not seeking the repair solely because you now need that person/connection for your own gain, though,  I think that is probably one of the top motivators for people trying to go back and fix something they messed up. Whatever the case, it is almost always in your best interest to repair damaged relationships in your professional life.  It’s best if you take the steps necessary to prevent these types of situations; but, even if you have burned bridges, there is hope.

So, how do you fix a burned bridge?

There are some steps you can take; but, your motivation has to be sincere.  Even if you are driven to repair it because you find yourself in a situation where you need to reconnect with that person, you still need to truly and sincerely wish that you handled things differently.

Bridge Repair 101

1.  Make two lists.  The first will contain a list of the things that YOU did to participate in the demise of the connection.  Next you will make a list of all the reasons why you did what you did.  If you did it right, the second list will be way longer.

2.  Take the second, longer list, read it over once, crumple it up and throw it away.  You are done making excuses.  Move on.

3.  Take the first list and break it down into individual acts.  Make a new list of the consequences caused by your actions.

Here’s an example from my life:  when I was younger, about 23 or so, I walked off a job with no notice.  I had reasons (excuses) at the time.  My list might look like this:

1.  went to lunch and never went back
2.  never called to let them know I wasn’t returning
3.  didn’t apologize when the manager finally called me 10 days later


1. store was left short staffed
2. manager didn’t know what happened to me
3. left coworkers in the lurch

4.  Use these two lists to script your apology.  Mine might look like this:

Joe, when I worked for you in 1991, I quit using a technique that I now find rather embarrassing.  I would like to apologize for walking off the job.  I realize that the retail Christmas season was just starting and I left you and my coworkers short handed during a very busy time of year.  I just wanted to let you know that I’m sorry I handled it that way.

If it is a more complex situation than the one I’ve described, perhaps you still work with the person or people, the strategy is pretty much the same except that after you apologize, you make sure that your behavior matches your new attitude.  If you have pissed people off by not being a team player or by being hyper critical of new ideas, you apologize and if the situation warrants you can even outline the strategies you are undertaking to change your ways.  From that point on, you make sure your behavior supports your apology.

This is sort of a simplistic sounding remedy; but, repairing a burned bridge is mostly about YOU being self aware and be willing to sincerely apologize and do the things necessary to build trust again.  I have an acquaintance who realized that she had burned bridges at the job where she still worked because she had trouble controlling her anger and she took everything, EVERYTHING, personally.  Do you know what she did?  She started seeing a therapist.   I can’t say that things changed immediately; but, I suspect that over time, things will change for the better in her work situation.  The self awareness that led her to seek help will serve her well in the long run.

When a burned bridge is keeping you from advancing, I think there is an extra step.  In addition to apologizing and backing your apology up with new behaviors, you can outright ask your boss what you need to do to improve your chances for advancement.  Sometimes, no amount of repair will change a supervisor’s opinion enough to give you a fair shake in the office.  Sometimes, people in management positions are vindictive or hold grudges.  It’s worth a try and in the end your attempts at improving a relationship will help you navigate future relationship with more skill.  It’s NEVER a waste of time to try and fix a mistake.


Be nice. Someone might be looking.

CC: Austin Kleon

I was recently talking with my partner, Anya, about some of her coworkers and their interactions with each other.   We were talking about one particular person who is not the most skilled at communicating things to her colleagues.  I said, If for no other reason, she should be a little nicer because one of these people could end up being her boss.    I started thinking about that idea.  What if we all treated our coworkers as if tomorrow they could be our boss?  What would happen?  Some folks, good or bad, wouldn’t change their behavior at all.  Others, I suspect, would be more thoughtful in their dealings.  Instead of snapping at a coworker for doing something wrong, they might take more care in communicating their thoughts.

The quote in the image above is from Austin Kleon’s book, Steal Like an Artist.  His book is about “creativity in the digital age”; but, this particular idea is really a riff on the golden rule and a motto that would serve a person well should they adopt it as a life rule.

I’m a fan of personal slogans or mantras.  I’ve talked before about how the phrase “empty boat” became a life changing slogan for me.  The key to using these ideas is to use them immediately following the behavior or thought pattern you wish to change.  Reflection is great; but, in this case, immediacy is greater.  The reward is that the bad feeling is released sooner.  You are forcing yourself to divert your course from obsessing negatively over something and move to a place where you can figure out the best, positive course of action.  This is classic mind control.  You are redirecting thoughts.

In Jill Bolte Taylor’s Stroke of Insight, the author describes the 90 seconds it takes for an emotion to run through our body.  After that, it is only remaining through cognition.  What that means is that if you can train yourself to let the emotion come and then pass without rerunning it in your mind, the discomfort leaves.  If you continue to think about the stimulus that brought on the emotion, you will continue to suffer.

It might seem like you are tricking yourself or that the only reason you’re being “nice” is because you are pretending the person is your boss.  You know what?  So what.  It’s not harming anyone for you to use these techniques and eventually they become more and more a part of your natural pattern of thinking.  At some point, you cross a line and are no longer pretending.  It might sound implausible; but, it does work.

Anger, jealousy, irritation.  These emotions don’t feel good.  Why would you fuel them and make them last longer if you don’t have to?  What if you could train your mind to let the 90 seconds pass and then let it go without dredging it up over and over?  It’s an appealing thought isn’t it?

I’m always asking you to try things.  Maybe you do, maybe you don’t.  If you only try one technique I’ve introduced, try this one.  Come up with your own spin on it and keep at it until its a habit.  Pen your own mantra and use it.  I still occasionally use Empty Boat.  It works for me.

Good luck!

Move. Shake. Repeat.

by Allan Cleaver via Flickr Creative Commons

I have one rule about jokes.  Don’t be mean.  It’s simple really.   And in my little world, after you clear the Don’t Be Mean hurdle, all else goes.  In all my touchy feely posts about kindness and happiness and being nice, I have rarely talked about humor.  Humor is our elixir.   It is our panacea.  Imagine your life without it.  Ugh.

Better writers and philosophers have mused on the necessity, the beauty, the subtlety, the noise, the dizzying, ice cracking, euphoric, quaking nature of humor.  Humor has saved and transformed people.

I want to talk about this guy:  JP Porcaro.  The library world has gone a little bit wacky over this guy.  I wouldn’t call the reaction to this Mover & Shaker to be monumental…but, there is a low buzz of both disapproval and support.

In some ways, the library community is just a big, sometimes dysfunctional family.  JP is the fun Uncle.  There’s usually a creepy Uncle and the relatives who are always sticking their heads into the den and yelling, “C’mon kids, quit rough housing.”  No one wants to go to family functions when the fun Uncle isn’t going to be there.  The family needs the fun Uncle.  Sometimes the fun Uncle is seen as not very mature; but, that is not always the case.  In my experience the fun Uncle can be counted on not to judge you too harshly, encourages good clean fun, knows when to rein it in and is the good hugger.  The fun Uncle thinks outside the box and is always there to help unload the moving van as long as there is pizza involved.  The fun Uncle is generous with his time, his money and would never let anything bad happen to you.

JP is our fun Uncle.  We need him.  Don’t rain on the fun parade.  And don’t be foolish enough to believe that he is not seriously passionate about libraries.

Unplug. Live a little.

It’s that time again:  The National Day of Unplugging is almost upon us.   Reboot, a Jewish creative community of “thought-leaders created The Sabbath Manifesto which includes 10 core principles and is modeled after the Slow Movement.  In 2010 they started the National Day asked people to take the pledge:  to unplug from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.  This year it takes place March 23-24.

I love this project.  It is a great reminder to slow down, stop texting and checking e-mail a million times.  I’ve talked  before about unplugging and how when I gave up my television my house was miraculously cleaner.  Now, television has seeped back into my life through my laptop and between Hulu and streaming Netflix I spend way too much time engaged with a thing instead of another person or my own thoughts.

A lot has changed for me since last year’s post on this topic.  I moved into the city and don’t live alone anymore.  I actually think this has altered my engagement with technology a bit.  I spend way less time on Facebook and actually hardly ever check it.  I also spend less time texting in the evening because the person I texted the most is now a few feet away.

One thing I worry about is that we’ll become one of those couples that sits next to each other on the couch, each engaged in our own laptop.  This rarely happens; but, I really want to make sure it never starts.

One of the things I noticed right away about Anya, on our first date, was that I never saw her phone.  I had gone on several dates where my date would check texts or lie their phone on the table, just in case.  I love the graphic at the top of this post.  If you click on it, it will take you to Uncommon Goods, where you can purchase the “phonekerchief” a handkerchief that actually blocks cell signals.  I think the charming thing about that sentiment is that while to some it may seem old fashioned, it comes down to just being focused and present when you are with others and there is nothing old fashioned about that.

I’m getting married this Summer (thanks Governor Cuomo!) and I had actually already decided that I would not be engaged with a phone on that day.  I’m also trying to find a little lake house near the orchard where we are getting married that we can rent for a week and just relax.  I’m a little bit amazed by the places that boast of high speed internet and satellite television.  I want peace and quiet and fun with Anya and our family and friends.  There will be no tweeting from the reception or the altar!

Give the National Day of Unplugging a shot.  It’s 24 hours.  Here’s my plan based on the ten principles.

  1. Avoid my laptop.  Only answer my phone if its my parents calling.  No email. No surfing. No TV or movie watching. Old school radio is fine.
  2. Hangout with Anya and a friend.  Snuggle and walk with Henry.
  3. Walk with Henry and finally get to the Y for some swimming.  Cook great meals.
  4. Besides Henry’s walks, hanging on the coffee shop patio and reading sounds great.
  5. I have no plans for commerce other than perhaps that coffee on the patio!
  6. Candles are a fine idea.  I’m not a candle person; but, Anya was definitely gotten me on track with candles.
  7. Not much of a drinker.  Perhaps some tea on the front stoop.
  8. I have pretty much refused to get into any habit that involves me eating while watching movies/tv; so, a nice home cooked meal with Anya happens pretty frequently and will happen again this Friday.
  9. Finding silence can sometimes be hard in Bed-Stuy.  We tossed around the idea of getting up early on Saturday and heading to the beach.  I’m sure to find some silence there.
  10. I’ll think on this one:  give back.  I’m sure I can figure out a creative way to meet this challenge.

E-Books and Growing Pains

If you have been following the e-book saga at all, you know that is chock full of good vs evil, doomsday proclamations and if you sift through the traffic, insightful and educated analyses.

I tend to be in the camp that thinks we should be educating the public about these issues.  I don’t really want to damper people’s joy over their e-reader by educating them about the jockeying for position that is going on right now and what it might mean for the future of publishing and our ability to have access to the reading materials we enjoy.  I actually don’t have the energy for all of that; but, I think whenever you spend money it’s important to take a second and understand where it’s going.

Every reader, whether you read print or digital books,  should read this blog post from IPG (Independent Publishers Group).  When my Kindle loving friend said e-books should be cheaper because they don’t have to print them, I tried to explain the situation.  Now I can send her this link.  When my friend asked me if I was going to quit my job if I get my YA novel published, I tried to explain to her the situation.  Now I can send her this link.

The book industry is in the middle of a period of growing pains.  Remember when we were in school and we learned about the Industrial Revolution and all the change it brought.  We are in the middle of an Information Revolution.  It would be interesting to know what people say about this time 100 or 200 years from now.  Unfortunately, we don’t have a time machine.

What we need is a voice of reason.  A voice that is not motivated by greed.  A voice that is not motivated by fear.  A voice that represents the greatest good and not narrow self interests.  A voice that represents the readers.  If we had a leader with such reason, the authors would be happy.  The publishers would be happy.  The booksellers would be happy.  The librarians would be happy.

I think that voice of reason should come from libraries.  We are readers and we represent readers; we always have.  I applaud all the librarians doing good work on this issue because we need a seat at the table.

I don’t own an e-reader because it’s not a good fit for me.  I prefer not to engage with any more screens.  And to be honest, I’m not a voracious reader of books right now.  I’m lucky if I read one every 6 weeks.  Plus, I mostly read library books.  When I do purchase books, I have made a commitment to give my money to independent bookstores because I have easy access to them now.  I literally live down the street from Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn.  When I lived in NJ and did not live near any small booksellers, I tended to order online from Powells (my ex-employer who I feel loyal to) or go to the nearby  Borders (also my ex-employer) because I spent so many hours there browsing and reading without purchasing that I felt it necessary to support them.

If I did consider purchasing an e-reader, I’d take pause before buying a Kindle.  There are tons of benefits to buying a Kindle; but, Amazon is being a bully right now.  I understand business competition and the bottom line and all of that; but, Amazon has been playing dirty (in the book wars) in a way that I’m not really willing to support at the moment.  Their “lending library” for Prime members caused a few raised eyebrows as did their Christmas shopping app that would give you a discount if you scanned a book’s barcode (say…at a brick and mortar bookstore) and then bought it online at Amazon.  Really?  I wonder if the business generated by that outweighed the disgust because I, as an Amazon customer, felt some hate on hearing about that one.  I made sure to buy all my Christmas gift books at Greenlight, excepting one I bought at McNally Jackson.  (Did you know that you can support independent bookstores by purchasing e-books from their websites?)

And what about the publishers who refuse to work with libraries for e-book lending?  See, it’s getting murkier.  Do you boycott them?  Do you wait all of this mess out before purchasing an e-reader?  I don’t really know.  I do know, that as readers and librarians, we should be aware of where our money goes and what it goes to support.

Last night I told my partner about an experience I had this week:  I was reading a magazine or a blog (can’t remember where I saw it) and came across an article about small farms.  The photo at the top of the article was a close up of a pig’s face.  The photo was taken in a way that seemed to capture the character of the pig in a way that gave me great pause.  I thought, if met this pig would I be able to then eat bacon?  There was just something about this pig’s face that touched me.  Anya said, “But bacon is so good.”  I know.  Bacon is yummy; but, to eat the bacon without acknowledging that a creature died in order for me to have bacon, seems wrong.  It’s not that I haven’t thought of  this before or that I am vegetarian.  But, as an eater of pig on occasion, it’s important for me to be present, completely, in the decision to eat meat.  It’s something I struggle with.

Obviously the decision to eat meat or not is different than navigating the book business; but, I think that there should be more thoughtfulness in our decision making, even if it means we are inconvenienced.

For further reading on the subject:

Readers Bill of Rights for Digital Books

Kindle Reading Experience….(Jessamyn West)

Kansas Leading the Fight

Librarian in Black:  Here, here, here and here

And this from an author, self publishing on Amazon



What Can We Learn From Parking Wars?

no parking1

Brian Gurrola via Flickr Creative Commons

If you want insight into human behavior, watch Parking Wars, an A&E reality show and don’t just watch one, watch several of them.

It’s safe to assume these are edited to get the audience to react in a certain way; but, there are still patterns of behavior that are fascinating to observe.  I have always felt that one of the keys to less suffering is to take responsibility for your actions.  Once you take responsibility your fear of blame recedes and you can start problem solving the solution.  You could write a dissertation on human behavior after watching a few seasons of this show; but, I want to talk about blame.

In the show, the folks who lie and come up with a million excuses and blame the ticketing officer, blame the city and blame the government and blame everyone but themselves clearly suffer the most.  The folks that shrug their shoulders and say, I knew I shouldn’t have parked there.  I got caught;   pay their bill and move on suffer the least.  For them, they understood the risks, they took them and they lost:  The end.  For the other folks, it’s never the end because they are so angry at everyone else for the hole they dug either by getting the tickets themselves or lending their car out to other people who don’t take care of their tickets.

The act of taking responsibility for your choices and actions ends or at least diminishes the stress and negative brain chatter.  The act of blaming doesn’t relieve a person’s stress.  It seems to just add fuel to their anger.  These folks see the whole experience as something being DONE TO THEM.  They are the victim.  They also think they should fall under an exception because they are delivering something, working in the building adjacent to the parking space or my favorite, only parked there for a minute.  One guy parked in a handicap spot and was quite angry he got ticketed because he was just running into the store for a minute.  Stating the shortness of time was a common refrain.

I think one of the differences between the folks who take responsibility and the ones who blame and make excuses is their level of empowerment.  The folks who take responsibility understand that it’s in their power to mostly avoid these unpleasantries by paying attention and obeying the rules.  The other group doesn’t see it this way at all.  In fact, they seem to feel quite powerless in the situation which causes a tremendous amount of suffering.

All of this applies to the workplace quite easily.  When things go wrong, as they sometimes do, even if you work in a dysfunctional place, it’s best to own up to your mistakes and remain calm.  If you can manage not to let criticism paralyze you or send you into an energy wasting defensive mode, you win even more.  This attitude works with coworkers and across the service desk with customers.

I have a Buddhist friend who told me about this practice she had undertaken.  We were talking about blame and she said if she felt the urge to blame, under the philosophy of this practice, she would take the blame onto herself.  She used the example of being driven nuts by a partner who leaves their socks on the floor and you feel like you’re constantly picking up socks.  I asked how she would handle that.  She said, “I’d pick up the sock and say to myself: why did I leave that here?”  We laughed pretty hard at that one; but, I was intrigued by the idea.  It feels so awful to be blamed for something whether you did it or not.  But, it also feels horrible to blame.  There is a desperate anger in the act of blaming that is a slow acting poison.  By taking the blame back (Why did I leave that sock here?) you are creating a habit of cultivating compassion and shielding the person from your poison.  This particular friend works in a high stress, corporate environment.  We frequently talk about managing our lives at work while maintaining our openness and ability to be compassionate and empathetic.  Many people would say there is no place for that in a corporate, dog eat dog, environment.  My friend and I would disagree.  The more risks you take (taking the blame for something so you can move on to solution finding), the less scary it becomes.

Here’s my challenge:  During the next week, notice how often your mind jumps to blame someone for something.  It doesn’t matter if it’s about socks on the floor or losing a big client; if your mind starts hunting for someone to blame, take note of it.  Ask yourself what would happen if you just skipped past the blaming stage and got to the solution part (picking up the sock or creating a team to brainstorm ways to keep good clients).

Leave No Trace

I am currently reading How to Train a Wild Elephant by Jan Chosen Bays.  It is a book that contains 53 simple exercises in mindfulness.  I gave a friend the book for Christmas and we are doing the exercises, 1 each week and then talking on the phone or by email to review how things went.  The second exercise is called Leave No Trace.  For this exercise, you choose a room or rooms of your house and for one week you try to leave no trace that you’ve been there.  In other words, pick up after yourself!

In my last post I revealed my cluttery past which is still probably my instincts.  While doing the Leave No Trace exercise, I realized a couple of things.  One is that my life has really changed in so many positive ways and I’m kind of proud of myself for just how much change I’ve managed to absorb.  Becoming more organized is one of them.  My apartment is much cleaner and it’s way easier to find things.  Come tax time, I know that everything I need is in one place.  I rarely misplace my keys and I don’t spend a lot of wasted energy looking for things or feeling like I’m constantly picking up stuff.

It is sometimes hard to break habits.  My coworker just the other day said, “They say it takes 30 days to change a habit.”  I didn’t even have a plan other than it had become so distressing to not be able to find things and to be visually stimulated all the time with stacks of unread mail that I started doing things slowly: easing things where I could.

One of the first things I began doing, now that I look back on it, was cleaning up as I went while I was cooking.  It was less stressful to do it this way, even though my partner was the dishes cleaner.  By the time we sat down to eat, the only dishes that needed doing were usually the our plates, utensils and maybe the pot I used.  Then I started retrieving the mail and sorting it immediately: recycling, file immediately, read later, read sooner.  I still use this method in an altered form.  I literally stand over the recycling bin as I sort the mail.  If it needs shredding it goes on a small pile that is on top of the shredder.  If its a magazine, it goes on the rack with my library books.  If it’s a bill (I don’t get very many bills in the mail anymore), it goes tucked into my checkbook and I leave it out on a dresser near the front door so I don’t forget to pay it.  If it’s some other mail that I need to read, it goes into a drawer of such mail and a place I use to catch things I don’t know where to put until I weed the drawer at some later point.  This method works for me.

When I come home I hang my coat immediately.  My mother, in particular, would be astonished by this development.  I don’t want to hang my coat and sort the mail and put my shoes in the closet; but, I know that the extra 90 seconds saves me the aggravation of doing it later and the stress of tripping over the stuff or seeing it lying around.  I put my laundry into a laundry bin, fold my sweaters and put them in the armoir and empty my pockets of change, keys, etc.  This sounds kind of ….uninspired…but, it is revolutionary in my world.

The exercise also made me realize just what things are the most important to me.  I think the “mindfulness” part is so valuable because it got me thinking about the feeling part of leaving no trace.  What I mean is….if I walk in the apartment and the kitchen island is clear and there are no dishes in the sink and no mail piling on the side table and no towels on the bathroom floor, I’m free.  There is no immediate chore hanging over my head.  There is no visual reminder of all that needs to be done.  It’s freeing and calming.

On the other hand, and I think this is a really important point, you also have to figure out what to let go of.  I have a box of “accident stuff” I’ve been dragging around.  Now that I live in NYC, where space is a premium, I look at that box and think: you need to go.  But I don’t feel like going through all those papers and trying to decide what to keep and what to ditch.  I don’t want to organize my photos which are in another box or my childhood memorabilia which is in another box!  And you know what?  I’m not going to.  Right now, I have the lucky situation where there is space for those three boxes and I don’t have to deal with them right now.  At some point, I probably will have to go through and sort stuff out.  But right now, I don’t and the key to that being a good thing is to accept it and not let it hang around as some UNDONE chore.  I’ve decided not to tackle them; so, it’s not a chore on my to do list at all.

I encourage you to try this exercise for a week or more.  If it seems overwhelming, do one thing:  I’m going to hang up my coat as soon as I enter the house or I’m going to put my keys, wallet and phone in exactly the same place.  I’m going to do all the dishes before I go to bed so that I wake to an empty sink.

What about your disorganization bothers you the most?  Tackle that one thing.

Good luck.  And if you like that exercise, pick up a copy of the book at your local independent bookseller!

Technology, My Friend

Faithful readers of this blog know most of my stories begin with the phrase before the accident or the phrase after the accident.  I’ve tried to be mindful of avoiding this pattern; but, it really was such an incredible turning point.  So I apologize in advance for starting another sentence in such a way.

Before the accident, I can honestly admit I was a disorganized, slightly cluttered, paper piling kind of gal.  There were stacks of magazines and papers with little notes I had written to myself.  I struggled with keeping clutter to a minimum.  After the accident, the clutter really bothered me.  It created an unpleasant noise in my head similar to speaker feedback.  Plus, my method of keeping reminders on various slips of paper didn’t work anymore because I was unable to untangle the chaos created by that method.  What worked before, didn’t work anymore.  Plus I had a million appointments with doctors and rehab therapists and phone conversations with insurance people.  I got mail from insurance companies or health providers almost every day for a year.  My partner helped me create a system using a calendar in the kitchen and a milk crate on the dining room table.  I carried a small spiral notebook and pen in my pocket everyday (though I frequently misplaced these notebooks).  It was still too much to track.

I started researching ways to organize that were simple and would help me cope with the some of the memory and other brain issues I struggled with at that time.   I want to share some of my process, my discoveries and resources.

Android smart phone:  as much as I hate putting all my eggs in one basket, I find it simplest to just continue to Googlefy my life.  It started with Gmail and Google calendar.  When I realized I could carry my calendar in my pocket I succumbed to the idea of paying more for a smartphone.  My phone has been a lifesaver in more ways than I originally thought it would help.  Even now that I struggle far less with brain issues I’ve kept the smart phone for the two features that have helped me the most:  alerts (calendar) and GPS.  The simplicity of going with Google has saved me from having to figure out how to get the various pieces to talk with one another.  I know that is one reason why people love Apple so much.  It’s seamless and now that Apple has the iCloud it is even simpler to manage everything.  I use the following apps regularly:

  • Evernote:  I love Evernote.  I have an ongoing grocery list on there.  I can add things online from work or home or on the fly on my phone.  That list is always with me.  I also clip things while websurfing, organize recipes and various other files and images.  I have a scanner set up to automatically go to Evernote and I keep documents, manuals and receipts on there.  I can snap a picture of a list or business card and send it to Evernote where it is searchable by text.  It’s an amazing product that is free; but, totally worth the pro upgrade.  And it keeps getting better.  It takes awhile to get in the habit of sticking stuff in Evernote; but, once you do it becomes a reliable and easy method of storing and retrieving just about anything.
  • GoodReads:  I joined Good Reads solely to get this app so I could easily keep track of my “to read” list and have it available when I was in a library or bookstore.
  • Google Maps:  This has proven to be invaluable.  I prefer a regular print map.  My visual memory is much better than my ability to remember things I’ve read (like an address) or heard (directions given verbally). But, I have found I rely heavily on GMaps.  Before I head out I Google map my trip and email it to myself.  That way I have it quickly accessible on my phone. Of course, I don’t have to email it beforehand.  I could do it directly on my phone.  I just find it nice to call it up quickly.  I’ve also started using the “My Maps” feature which is also a great way to store maps you use.

Putting all your eggs in one basket is a little scary.  I used to back up my Gmail offline; but, I don’t do that anymore.  I suppose I should and I know there are some easy-ish ways to accomplish this task.  My music which is in Google Music and my pictures which are in Picasa are also backed up on my laptop and an external hard drive.  I should automate this process and there are some cool tools to help with that; but, I haven’t set anything up yet.  I had used a backup service that would automatically backup different folders to the cloud; but, I found them clunky.  That was a couple of years ago and I should try that again.

The other tool I owe a great deal of my sanity to is Last Pass:  Last Pass is a password vault.  It is probably the single thing that has most helped me, especially since returning to the library field.  I feel like a few times a month I’m signing up for things that require passwords.  There are other password vaults out there that are also good.  I just happen to use Last Pass and have been pleased with it.  It is a tool that I find essential.  It works with most browsers and will remember all of your passwords for you.  I have it set up to automatically fill most of my logins, excepting financial or other sensitive sites.  I still have some memory issues and I really don’t want to waste brain energy, which I have to conserve, on keeping track of passwords or where I wrote them down.  Last Pass is easy to use and has vastly improved my Internet safety because I don’t repeat passwords and I let Last Pass generate passwords for me so they are complex and safer.  If I was forced to choose between giving up my smart phone or giving up Last Pass, I’d give up my smart phone without a hesitation.

For me the key to success has been automation and do it once and forget about it.  I set reminders and tasks in calendar.  All my bills are paid automatically and I have reminders set to review my accounts and transfer money into a joint household account.  I’m on top of things with minimal effort.  It has been life changing. There are times I have duplication or when I also use written lists or reminders even though I also have them in Google calendar and/or tasks.  I use a white board that is not attached to a wall.  I prop it up wherever I need it.  I’m still old school enough to sometimes want to write things out when planning a trip or project.

I recently discovered iftt.  This is an awesome web application that helps you automate even further.  I set up a “recipe” so that whenever I star something in Google reader it automatically gets added to my Read it Later account.  You could set it to have all your Instagram photos sent to Dropbox or Evernote or even your blog on WordPress.  There are seemingly a million ways to use this and I’ve just started exploring; but, I suspect I’m going to love it.

There are a ton more applications and tricks.  I have learned the most from reading Lifehacker on a daily basis.  I also read their book which is an excellent overview.

In my next post, I’ll discuss the non-technology based solutions I have devised.

Brooklyn Public Library Update

On my way home yesterday, I swung by the Brooklyn Public Library which has been doing much better in the customer service department since my initial encounter while getting a library card.  I mostly just go there to pick up holds.  I picked up my book and went to the checkout and greeted the clerk who returned my greeting.  After swiping my card and checking out my material, she said, “Wait” and then looked at my pile.  “You have two other books on hold.  Let me check the back.”  This is excellent customer service.  I know that after checking me out she checked my record and saw the holds.  Some clerks do not do this and then you get home to an email saying your books are ready.  All in all the folks at BPL have been much friendlier and helpful and I now look forward to going in there.  Lesson:  Take the extra second (or longer) to provide thorough service.

I’m starting to think the mess over signing up for a card was just a fluke, though they still have my address wrong and I’m not about to correct it because it’s a hassle, which brings me to another lesson learned:  keep it simple.  The policy that I have to bring in proof of address AGAIN in order to correct the street number on my record, which I pointed out as an error is completely based on a system of distrust.  It’s no skin off my back if the number is right or wrong.  I don’t particularly want junk snail mail because I  subscribe electronically to the information I want to receive.  So, I’m not receiving any fund raising materials via snail mail, which would typically lie around my house before being tossed.  I’ve been known to give fundraising pleas a second chance after they have been hanging around the house for awhile.  Instead, because they won’t fix the address, they are only getting their pleas to my email inbox and I delete them immediately without reading.  Out of sight, out of mind.

As a customer of any business, when I sense policies and procedures set up because they don’t trust me and/or their own employees I can almost feel my loyalty to them fade away.  This happened with Whole Foods, where I do still shop from time to time but I really feel much less loyalty to them.

Brooklyn Public is a large system doing the best they can with a smaller budget (I’m guessing).  But their most valuable resource is sitting at the circulation and reference desks.  These are the folks that can build or break customer loyalty.  These are the folks that deliver first impressions good and bad.  How are you treating that resource?  Are you getting the best from staff?  Have you earned the best?