Friday, May 31, 2013

Picture Day Friday: Standard of Ur

This is the Standard of Ur from southern Iraq from about 2600–2400 BCE. At that time, Ur was the capital of an empire stretching across southern Mesopotamia. Known today as Tell el-Muqayyar, the Mound of Pitch, the city of Ur was occupied from around 5000 BCE to 300 BCE.

The British Museum says that the object below "was found in one of the largest graves in the Royal Cemetery at Ur, lying in the corner of a chamber above the right shoulder of a man. Its original function is not yet understood."

"The main panels are known as 'War' and 'Peace'. 'War' shows one of the earliest representations of a Sumerian army. Chariots, each pulled by four donkeys, trample enemies; infantry with cloaks carry spears; enemy soldiers are killed with axes, others are paraded naked and presented to the king who holds a spear. The 'Peace' panel depicts animals, fish and other goods brought in procession to a banquet. Seated figures, wearing woolen fleeces or fringed skirts, drink to the accompaniment of a musician playing a lyre."

[Image courtesy of Wamtac.]

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time ...Part 2

In the blog on Monday, May 27, 2013, I introduced the basic concept of the book Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy.

Continuing on... How do you create the daily prioritized list of tasks?

In order to do so, I ask myself, "Which is the one activity that if I did in an excellent and timely fashion would have the greatest positive impact on the project as a whole or my life?" Thus, I use long-term consequences to make my near-term decisions.

The thing that I, personally, have been and continue to be guilty of is that I'm tempted to clear up the small things first. The thinking is that these are things that I can finish up quickly and that will make me feel accomplished and on top of things. Whereas the reverse is true. Time management is really life management, and while I am free to choose what to spend my time on, my ability to choose between important and unimportant things will determine my successes day-to-day and in the long-term.

Identifying the key constraints of all the tasks also determines the order of execution of the tasks. Say, I'm waiting for something to be delivered to me by someone else before I can start on my part of the project, then I can schedule that task for the afternoon instead of first thing in the morning, even if, it is the most important thing on my list for that day. In this case, the ugly morning frog will have to be the ugliest of all the frogs in my control and not dependent upon others.

An important determiner of the order of tasks is my assessment of my daily health and special needs. Say, my energy levels always flag around 10 o'clock and pick up after lunch at 1 o'clock. Well, then the ugliest frogs are set for the first half of the morning, unimportant tasks for mid-morning, and the lesser frogs for early afternoon.

Sometimes a project is too large and unwieldy to be tackled in one big chunk. So after it is broken down in various sub-tasks, the sub-tasks can be sequenced in order to get the whole project done.

These are some of the ways in which to develop a prioritized list of tasks to do on a daily basis.

One thing to remember is to unitask, that is, focus on only one task at time, and finish it before moving on to the next task on the list. See the blog on May 20, 2013 to learn how and why unitasking is better than multitasking.

Another thing to remember is to "develop a sense of urgency in everything you do," according to Brian Tracy. Once you start a task, develop the habit of working immediately and fast on it.

The unitasking and fast action help in achieving a task quicker with higher quality. It results in a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time ...Part 1

Image copyright by socyo at I've blogged about the book Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy before. Lately, I picked up the book again and felt motivated to re-do my previous blog on it with added new information.

Eat That Frog! refers to the Mark Twain mantra: "Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day."

According to Tracy: "Your frog is your biggest, most important task of the day, the one you're most likely to procrastinate on. It is also the one task that can have the greatest possible impact on your life and results at the moment. [So] tackle your major task first thing each morning before you do anything else and without taking too much time to think about it. If you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first."

The way I interpret this is that I should plan my day in advance (say, the night before or at the start of the day) by creating and typing up a prioritized list of tasks I want to get done that day.

"There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the most important thing." So the first thing I tackle the next day morning is either the most significant task and/or the most 'procrastinable' task. The latter is the task that I'm most reluctant to get done—it might be something I have been putting off for days. So getting that done and out of the way in the morning itself will take the pressure off from the rest of my day.

"Whenever you complete a task of any size or importance, you feel a surge of energy, enthusiasm, and self-esteem," says Brain Tracy. "The more important the completed task, the happier, more confident, and more powerful you feel about yourself and your world. The ability to concentrate single-mindedly on your most important task, to do it well, and to finish it completely, is the key to great success, achievement, respect, status, and happiness in life."

Who wouldn't want these feel-good endorphins first thing in the morning? Especially when, I don't have to have burning pain in my legs or heaving sides to get it? Frog legs for the win! Bon Appétit!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

What Not To Wear...11th Century Style

Gale R. Owen-Crocker of has a great post on how the clothes of the guys in the Bayeux Tapestry often depicts the status and character of the men involved.

For example, "We then Guy [Count of Ponthieu,(d.1100)] being confronted by William’s messengers who look bigger and more intimidating then the men from Ponthieu. Guy is now shown wearing a cloak over an embroidered tunic with colorful yellow and green garters and carrying an axe. Owen-Crocker believes that the tunic he is wearing was made of fur, making the count look decadent and wimpy."

The post's definitely worth a read.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Picture Day Friday: British Historical Landscape

Parterre at Edzell Castle in Scotland

[Image is courtesy of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Gardens of the University of Greenwich.]

Monday, May 20, 2013

Unitasking Instead of Multitasking is the New Way to Work

I shall be doing a short series of productivity blogs here next.

I have blogged on Monk Mind: How to Increase Your Focus by Leo Babauta before. I'm combining those previous posts into one here.

The buzzword of the late 1990s and 2000s was multitasking. Everyone wanted to be multitasking or wanted it bruited about that they were efficient multitaskers.

But the key question these high achievers failed to ask was: Were they effective as multitaskers? That is, at the end of the day, given the same set of tasks, did the multitaskers or the unitaskers achieve more in terms of quality and quantity?

Has this ever happened to you? You're reading a document, when it suddenly reminds you of the email your friend sent to you yesterday that you hadn't replied to, so you open your email program, only to find two high priority emails from your boss that you start answering, only to be interrupted by your co-worker calling you for lunch. And so your mid-morning goes, by the end of which, all you've achieved is a meal.

Behavior and social scientists now believe that constant context-switching between various tasks causes people to be less effective overall. For something like walking and chewing gum, multitasking works. For something like, writing a scene of your book with complex fight choreography and also having a protracted discussion via email on the minutiae of book contract negotiations, multitasking is counterproductive to achieving the milestones for either of the two tasks.

Every time you switch away from task one to task two, you have to reload all the details about task two in your mind before you can start working. Similarly, switching back to task one requires you to reload those set of details, and back and forth.

In Monk Mind, blogger Leo Babauta explodes the myth that multitaskers are getting more work done and are getting more satisfaction from that work, in terms of quality and sense of achievement.

So for the intellectually challenging tasks, tasks that require a lot of attention and care, tasks involving physical and emotional intimacy, etc., unitasking is to be lauded and actively pursued, because focusing on single tasks is the way to go in order to achieve success.

How do you go about focusing the mind on a single task? Take the case of writing an article for a magazine.

Clear Away Distractions

Close all email systems, browsers, and social media programs.

Turn off all notifications.

Disconect your computer from the Internet.

Clear your desk of all pieces of paper except for those necessary for your selected task. As in the case of writing the article, you'll need your folder of research material, interview transcripts, and notes.

Leave only the programs open that are necessary for achieving your selected task. So for the article, perhaps you'll need the folder where you've saved your research and nascent article files and your word processing program.

Plug in headphones, whether you play music or not is up to you. Headphones cut out ambient sound and also signal to other people that Serious Work Is In Progress.

Now, do nothing but that one task.

Practice Doing One Thing

If you can't focus on one task for more than a few minutes, start out with small goals in the begining. Say, you'll work on your task for five minutes, then reward yourself by taking a one-minute break to read email. Slowly build up to ten minutes on, one minute off; and so on. Be sure to have a timer set so that you can accurately build this up. In his article, Leo writes, "Set up a positive feedback cycle for single-tasking focus, and you’ll reverse the years of training your mind has gotten to switch tasks."

Sounds overly simplistic? Give it a try. The mind is flexible and can be retrained.

In conclusion, Leo writes, "While a few years ago I couldn’t sit down to work on something without quickly switching to email or one of my favorite Internet forums or sites, today I can sit down and write. I can clear away distractions, when I set my mind to it, and do one thing. And that changes everything: you lose yourself in that task, become so immersed that you pour everything you have into the work, and it becomes a meditative, transformative experience. Your happiness increases, stress goes down, and [quality of] work improves."

An aside...

However, busy moms will still prize multitasking. For example, here's what writer Monica Trasandes wrote in the December 2012 issue of Real Simple: "Recently I found myself walking toward the kitchen with a load of laundry in my arms, two empty coffee cups dangling from my fingers, and car keys tucked between my chin and the clothes."

I think Trasandes is a lightweight. I'd have a book tucked under one arm, a purse dangling from that elbow, the mugs held in one hand, while an empty water bottle and a board game are firmly clasped in the other hand, in addition to the laundry and keys.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Picture Day Friday: Memorabilia Around the Web

What people like to collect:

[Image courtesy of WWII Collectibles.]

[Image courtesy of Rootsweb Ancestry.]

[Image courtesy of Norvic Philatelics.]

[Image courtesy of Fan Pop.]

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Collecting Memorabilia and Displaying It

Memorabilia, the detritus of one's life and also the raison d'être.

In his article "Flights of Fancy" for the April 2013 issue of the Smithsonian, playwright David Mamet waxes eloquent on his collection of memorabilia and the stories behind the items. "My various workplaces are cork-walled and covered in remembrances, of the early motion picture studios, of the railroads, of long-forgotten politicals wars."

Now, most romance readers collect author promo items, which we call swag. So let's have it: What is in your collection, swag or memorabilia? And where do you put it?

Most of my authorial swag is in paper form and is in binders of plastic sleeves. I have one sleeve dedicated to each of my top favorite authors and then sometimes shared sleeves for author groups (authors who are friends, fellow bloggers, write in the same sub-genre, etc.). In each sleeve, I have signed coverflats, post-its, bookmarks, postcards, handwritten notes, trading cards, and business cards. Other than binders, I have totes, pens, chapstick, chip clips, compacts, pens, hand mirrors, pens, coasters, and writing pads, which I use every day. It keeps the memory of the authors and their books alive in my mind every time I see one of those items.

One of my most favorite items of non-authorial swag is the concert program and ticket of Zubin Mehta's appearance as the conductor of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. What a concert that was—a symphony :) of Webern and Beethoven.

Another treasured part of my collection is the set of five original colored prints of Regency gowns from the catalog La Belle Assemblée.

Here's a picture of one of my cork boards chockablock with memories:

(Click on the image to see a bigger version.)

Top left is Nora Roberts's annual magnet showing book releases by month as well as a calendar for the year. Below that is a small postcard of the Tibetan Festival I attended four years ago here. Under that is the aqua card from my husband that reminds me to "Listen Closely" because he knows that a writer is in the process of becoming. The rare Bridgertons bookmark by Julia Quinn hangs off the bottom left edge and is cozied up to a collection of four make-believe vintage romance novel covers. Above that is a picture of a study filled with warm wood furniture and lots of sunlight streaming in through the wide windows. This is my dream of a study to sit and write in.

"Park your car. Drive Fluevog." is a sticker sign that Canadian speciality shoemaker John Fluevog puts out. Above that are two wonderful memories of a Hawaiian trip: a wooden postcard with dolphins and whales and a wooden ukulele bookmark. Above the ukulele are three versions of my business cards. Below it is a bookmark by a person on eBay who designed my custom ex libris bookplates.

The bookmark from Titlepage and the occasional tweet by Odile reminds me of an attempt at an online literary disucssion circle with authors, a virtual soapbox that is a 21st century version of the Algonquin Round Table, produced and presented by Daniel Menaker.

Right above that is a bookmark from The Beau Monde, a special interest chapter of the Romance Writers of America. Next to this bookmark is a filligree metal bookmark of Sydney, sent to me by friend and author Anna Campbell. And right above that is my favorite button of all time: SquawkRadio. It was a group of five authors (Eloisa James, Connie Brockway, Christina Dodd, Lisa Kleypas, and Elizabeth Bevarly) who came together to create one of the very first online group author blogs. SquawkRadio was also my first introduction to the online romance community, affectionately known as Romancelandia.

Top right is the cardboard insert that came with my Jane Austen action figure—she came with a writing desk, quill, and a seriously fashionable outfit. To the left of that is a bookmark reminding me to "never judge a book by its movie," not that I am in danger of doing so. Below that is a post-it by fave historical author Candice Hern. Business cards from The Perfumed Court and Threadless highlight my current interests in perfume samples (including Queen Victoria's and Audrey Hepburn's faves) and crowdsourced, original art T-shirts.

Front center is my aboslute favorite photograph: My ideal of where I'd like to be 24x7: On a beach, on a sunny, warm, afternoon, sitting in a comfy chair with a cool drink on the table next to me, listening to the waves and reading a book. Below that is a lotion bottle wrapper from Island Bath and Body in Plumeria-Vanilla—Hawaiian heaven in a bottle. The button below that features some of the group of then aspiring and now published romance writers who used to frequent the SquawkRadio blog and the Eloisa James message board: The Bon Bons.

To the right of that is a gorgeous handmade purse of lavendar silk, plaid top, and beaded outline and handle. It's not a purse that can see heavy usage, but is a minor sort of a coin purse purely for your viewing pleasure. To the right of that is a tea bag packet from the tin of Fortnum and Mason tea I had picked up on my trip to London (part one, part two, and part three).

Top center is a picture of a completely chaotic office, where the mother's sitting under the desk and the baby in diapers rules the roost by commanding the room's computer. In his essay, Mamet laments the advent of the computer. "One unfortunate byproduct of [the computer] is the elimination of the physical artifact: the flight log, the sectional map, the postcard, the pin-back button and the poster—in short, of memorabilia."

Friday, May 10, 2013

Picture Day Friday: Trinity College Library Dublin

Take a look at the immensity of The Long Room Library at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. It makes you take a deep breath, doesn't it? All those books waiting to be read. It's awe-inspiring!

[Image courtesy of The Gentleman Scholar.]

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Lost Treasures of the Library of Alexandria

The Library of Alexandria in Egypt has always been considered as one of the greatest libraries of the ancient world. "Oppression and fear of learning have obliterated almost all memories of ancient Alexandria," writes Carl Sagan in Cosmos. "Yet this place was once the brain and glory of the greatest city on the planet, the first true research institute in the history of the world." (Carl Sagan may be forgiven a lot, including his blindness towards the ancient, advanced civilizations of the East, namely, China and India.)

Scholars of Alexandria explored philosophy, literature, chemistry, biology, medicine, physics, astronomy, geography, mathematics, engineering, and history. "Science and scholarship had come of age [in Alexandria]," writes Sagan. Open-minded pursuit of knowledge for the sake of learning, questioning, refuting or digesting was the order of the day among the diverse peoples of the city. Encouraged by Alexander the Great, his namesake city, Alexandria became the center of learning, culture, and also commerce. The library also served as home to a host of international scholars, who were provided with research, travel, and lodging stipends for themselves and their families.

The Greek kings, who succeeded Alexander, were also serious about learning and research. The library consisted of research halls, a large dining hall, fountains and colonnades, botanical gardens, a zoo, dissecting rooms, an observatory, and meeting rooms where scholars could gather for critical discussion and debate. The library itself is known to have an acquisitions department and a cataloguing department located close to the stacks.

Of course, the heart of the library, as with any library, were the books. The original founders and succeeding directors combed the world's civilizations for books. They bought up libraries, copied books that could not be bought, wrested books from personal libraries, and yes, also stole ones that were otherwise unavailable. The scholars also produced new works that were An estimated half a millions books, in the form of papyrus scrolls, were shelved there.

Thus, the destruction of the Library of Alexandria led to an immeasurable loss of knowledge that affects us to this day. We know some of what we lost—some of it took nearly two thousand years to rediscover—some we don't know how to figure out, and most of it is gone forever. Imagine what we could've known of history, astronomy, biology, and engineering had the texts survived!

[Credit for these images goes to Living Moon.]

Friday, May 3, 2013

Picture Day Friday: Raja Deen Dayal's Photography

A photograph of the opulent drawing room in Bashir Bagh palace in Hyderabad, India taken in 1888. The photograph was shot by India's legendary photographer Raja Deen Dayal.

[Image courtesy of the BBC.]