Planning activities: today or never…

I was crawling through my long to-do list (that sadly doesn’t look like the Pink Panther’s):

Source: novaplanet.com

… and I noticed that there are two main categories:

  1. things I do every day/immediately,
  2. things that I postpone.

A handful of activities (luckily for them) fall into a third category of properly planned items, that are to be done regularly (often thanks to a calendar reminder) or at least in the near future and with a good certainty.

I don’t like the prevalence of the first two categories. It basically means I’m not properly planning, so I simply improvise, picking things from the to-do list depending on the current mood/energy level, and leaving all the rest to wait forever, like dogs in a shelter. The only time I plan is actually today. This of course can’t work for any activity that has a longer cycle (cleaning, for example) or lasts more than one day. I manage to do these things too, but more because their urgency makes them finally eligible to be done today, not because I planned them. On the opposite extreme, I have had planning-intensive moments in the past, but I tended to over-fill my schedule and it was simply exhausting.

I would like to find a level of planning that is right for my current energy availability, while allowing me to set goals in the future. A reasonable balance is to plan activities for a few hours of the day (around half of the day is OK) and leave the rest free for improvisation (for example it is a sunny day and I can spend the free hours at the park with a book; or it’s raining and I can do the house cleaning I planned for later). It would also work to leave one day per week completely free. It is also meaningful to coordinate activities with a partner, so that the common free times are planned together. On the longer run, I tend to plan a week ahead in detail (write down all planned activities), two weeks ahead in less detail (intentions, but no fixed dates), and occasionally plan events for a more distant future. I think this somewhat short planning is able to give me positive feedback when I manage to complete my weekly items, and motivate me to continue, and plan more accurately according to my energy stock.

How do you process your to-do list? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Watercolour: negative painting

Yesterday I came across this post from Sunnyfae about negative painting, a (watercolour) technique that requires to paint all around a given shape, therefore leaving the lightest areas of the canvas free. Here is one of her drawings:

I absolutely love the technique, so I looked up for Linda Kemp, the artist she mentions in her post. I found several videos on YouTube, and this one sounded great for my beginning with this new technique. Linda explains how to approach the painting in a mid-way between completely free and completely planned – by deciding the subject, colours and overall shapes before starting. The painting process will then be focused, while remaining free on local decisions (brush strokes and colour density). I like that approach and it suits me in this moment. You can browse other videos and find the one that speaks to you and invites you to try painting!

Thank you Sunnyfae for your inspiration, and do keep us posted with your progress and discoveries 🙂

Sharing inspiration #3

  1. Podcast: an episode of “Wort der Woche” (word of the week) – das Pipapo. Very short and accompanied by the transcription, it teaches you a new word in a light and funny way. Ideal for beginners!
  2. Text: the Curated list of falsehoods programmers believe in is actually for everyone, when you consider that the essential job of a software programmer is to replicate reality through a model. This list is a collection of errors and over-simplifications of these models. See for example the W3C page about handling names.
  3. Image: a motivational poster from The Latest Kate (whom I discovered in this imgur dump)

Watercolour painting: red fox

A couple weeks ago I saw a picture of a fox that invited me to make a watercolour painting. Today I stumbled upon this watercolour lesson from Laurie Wigham on John Muir Law’s blog and, after browsing the lesson’s slides, I grabbed my watercolour set, a largish pencil, my sketchbook and the watercolour pencils I have never used before, and started painting.

This is the outcome:

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I enjoyed experimenting with watercolour. I was initially worried of doing mistakes that I could not correct, but instead felt a lightness in filling large areas so fast, with a light touch of the brush, and see how I could move paint around thanks to water. I added pencil details after the paint had dried a bit, so in some areas the wet paint diluted the pencil and made very rich colours.

I’m happy with the right side of the drawing, I consider the colors right and the pencil addition quite balanced; the left side was too lightly painted and I used a lot of pencil, a bit too much. The proportions of dark and light areas on the left side are also not so similar to the picture, maybe because I started painting when I had observed the picture too quickly (especially that part).

Overall I am satisfied with this painting, it gives me a positive sensation and it motivates me to try again! I liked the speed of the paint part and the combination with pencil. The video and slides give a lot more information and techniques, so I’ll consult them in the future to pick new tips and improve. I hope I inspired you to grab a pencil and try this yourself! I’d love to hear your feedback on the post and hopefully see your own paintings 🙂

Film recommendation: “Paris, Texas”

Two days ago I watched this film at the cinema. A friend told me that it is widely available online, but I preferred to go to the cinema, for its setting and rituals: comfortable seats, great audio and video, planned timing and breaks. It is a situation where I have to decide very little and I can concentrate fully on the film.

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I have been enchanted by the colours, all along the film. Camera angles were a treat in practically every scene (I thought that the film could be stopped almost anytime and printed out on a large canvas, with wonderful results). But maybe I enjoyed the careful, slow unwinding of the characters’ stories even more than everything else. It seemed to me that some moments were not acted at all, they seemed so alive and real. I enjoyed the sensation of having enough time to understand what the characters thought, what they felt, instead of having to pick clues or devices put in place to signify an emotion, but in a way that saves film-time. I felt there was no plot, no planned outcome, and this made me feel relaxed – otherwise, when I know that the plot has to follow certain steps, I end up fixing my attention to it, afraid of missing a clue, but missing a whole bunch of other information.

It was great to watch the movie together with many other people. We chuckled, paid close attention, smiled, laughed and sighed together. It was precious to hear the buzz of conversations started right out of the doors, people flowing out in pairs or small groups, all starting a discussion about some particular scene or their impressions. There were people who didn’t like the film, and it didn’t bother me, even if I loved it a lot. There are many factors that need to be there to make you enjoy an artistic creation like a movie, not all under our control; maybe they were tired or worried about something and could not focus; maybe they didn’t like the story. Some films and books clicked for me only when I saw them again much later, with a different mindset.

For this movie, I liked the large space that the creators reserved to the spectator, to be filled with personal interpretations and empathy. There are very little hints of the opinion of the creators on the complex net of relationships among the characters, and their lives’ difficult turns. I felt that they offered that story to me, as it was, without trying to make sense of it themselves.

I’m curious to see more movies like this, and I am open to suggestions! Let me know in the comments.

Sharing inspiration #2

Second post of the series! This one features:

  1. Podcast: Sticky Notes Episode 2: Conductor FAQ – a great behind-the-scenes of a conductor’s job, training, and rehearsal work with the orchestra. It is too easy to assume that the conductor only waves a stick when the orchestra does the job of actually producing the music; Joshua Weilerstein explains how minimalist conduction at the concert is the result of great preparation work – so that the orchestra doesn’t need constant inputs anymore.
  2. Post: Zumwalt‘s Thoughtful Thursday: Personal Growth – interesting answers to  the question “Is forcing yourself to do things that are uncomfortable the only way to achieve personal growth?”. I always got the answer “of course!” but could not put that into practice, because the joy of success was nothing in comparison to the panic of being out of my comfort zone. This post reassured and motivated me a great deal.
  3. Image: the Calabash clash (ESA’s Picture of the Week, 30th of January, 2017)

Find the differences #3: taking sides

I was talking with a good friend about comfort zones, and the discussion got heated (each of us sort of got kicked out of their comfort zone 😀 ). I later thought at how we talked, and found two sentences I want to compare in this post:

  1. “It’s common that people disagree with you about something”
  2. “It’s common that people disagree with you about something, but when this happens between us, I try my best to understand your points and discuss fairly”

The first form of the sentence is the one I hear most often. What hurts me is that it is not clear if the person means that it happens with anyone, including your closest friends, partner(s), and family. I can’t resign to that!

Source: tumblr

The first sentence implies the side taken by the other person, so if it is a person close to me, they probably imply they are on my side. There are times when the other person sides with you, and some where they disagree so deeply that they can’t – and I really need to know it. Guessing would be dangerous, or unneccessarily cautious!

I see “taking sides” as deciding whether to fight someone else’s opinion, or to examine it together. I assume that parents are always on their children’s side: I mean, they try their best to examine the children’s opinions in a clear but calm fashion, rather than fighting them like dogs’ bad habits (or horse vices). I am horrified at the thought of children (of any age) not having parents “on their side”, therefore having to prepare for a mental war with them, where they actually could lose.

It is not yet about the positions about a topic – it is a promise that the discussion will not turn into a lawyer’s outwitting challenge. Both parts promise not to exploit the other’s weaknesses in speech, emotions, and coherence. I am aware that it is not the default for the majority of people I meet randomly in the city, but I want it to be a clear agreement with the people I consider close to me. To put it in positive terms: we agree on sharing our ideas in a safe environment, where issues and divergences are discussed with respect and honesty.

(Thinking about it further, it is really difficult to “be on the same side” of a person with deeply different opinions on many topics, and that makes me think that it’s unlikely that this person will ever be among my close friends; anyway, I try to extend safe discussing habits to all discussions.)