Posted in Personal life, Writing

What a To-Do!

My column for the June issue of the award-winning Tetbury Advertiser

cover of June issue of Tetbury Advertiser

As I delete the latest task management app from my phone, my quest for the perfect automated to-do list resumes, in parallel with my perpetual search for the ideal handbag.

When I downloaded this cutely-named app, it seemed full of promise. I imagined my days streamlined and efficient, my desk and my conscience clear by wine o’clock every day. However, I quickly went off it when it began to take over the decision-making process. It refused point-blank to allow me to change my mind about priorities or even to move incomplete tasks to the next day.

I really need an action-list app with a mañana setting, although the ever-patient editor of this esteemed magazine may disagree.

The last straw was the app’s highhandedly adding events to my calendar that were of no relevance to me. Bank Holidays I could accept, and I don’t mind a reminder of the Queen’s birthday, but the Battle of the Boyne? Really? All that did was make me feel inadequate that I couldn’t think of an appropriate to-do action to add to my list. “Wear orange,” suggested one waggish friend when I protested the fact on Twitter.

Which brings me to a different approach to productivity management: the What Not to Do list, for logging time-wasting things to avoid. If you know of any app designers out there, tell them I think there’s a gap in the market for this. I don’t mean only for recording evergreen items such as “Don’t spend too much time on Twitter (except to “like” @LionsTetbury’s wisecracks, obviously)”. I formulate new ideas for mine every day.

This morning, for example, I’d have added: “Don’t match up the pile of odd socks that your husband has discarded on the bedroom rug while searching his wardrobe for a pair – he is not a toddler. He can sort his own socks.” Although to be fair a toddler would handle this task very well, if at the stage of enjoying shape-sorter toys and memory games of pairs.”

I must add to my action list: “Recruit affable toddler.”

So it’s back to the drawing board for me – or at least to pen and paper. A handwritten list by my keyboard will have to suffice. Sometimes old technology really is the best option, just as old wives’ tales so often prove to be founded in fact. Old-fashioned does not mean obsolete. My favourite sage old saying? “The best way to get something done is to do it.”

As in writing my column for the Tetbury Advertiser.

(You see what I did there?)


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Posted in Personal life, Writing

Season of Mists and Mellow Idleness

Cover of October issue of the Tetbury Advertiser

(My column for the October 2017 issue of the Tetbury Advertiser)

People often say to me “I don’t know how you do so much”.

But I have plenty of sins of omission, because, as an optimist, I am constantly trying to fit more into the day than can physically be done.

I wish I could bring myself to subscribe to the Fall Off the Desk rule invented by my former boss. She held that if you ignored a task for long enough, there’d no point in doing it.

Harnessing Time’s Chariot

Not being that defeatist, I decided last month to re-embrace the timesheet. Years ago, working as a consultant, I had to keep timesheets to demonstrate I’d spent no more hours on a client’s business than they had contracted to pay for. These days, my chief client is me, but I hoped the practice might help me get more ticks on my action list each day – or at least excuse me from wasting precious time on the ironing.

cover of Dull Men of Great Britain
Cover photo via Amazon

The last time I filled in timesheets was before the invention of smartphone time management apps. We got by with paper lists or commercial systems such as Filofax. Such systems may look smart, but they’re not exactly exciting. My novelist friend Alison Morton‘s husband’s collection of Filofaxes earned him a place in the book Dull Men of Britain, alongside a drainspotter. No, that’s not a typo.

Squirrelling Time Away

So this time round, I decided to go high-tech, choosing from a wide selection an app called Toggl, because it reminded me of Tog, the red squirrel from the 1960s children’s television series Pogle’s Wood.

Toggl lets you set a timer running as you begin each new task. My first experiments were fun, but flawed, due to pilot error. I kept forgetting to turn it off when I went to lunch, logging five-minute tasks as taking an hour. Usually I turn my computer off before I got to bed, but when I forgot, Toggl recorded a gruelling night shift. I may burn the candle at both ends, but I’m not that bad. With constant mistakes reducing its accuracy, Toggl’s novelty started to wear off, and I wondered whether to send the little squirrel into hibernation.

Tuning into a New Trick

Then by chance over breakfast, I heard an article on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme promoting the importance of idleness to the creative mind.

To be more productive, it suggested, I shouldn’t be managing my working hours but increasing my down-time.

I already knew my best ideas arise when I’m not actually trying. Sure enough, after the programme finished, I got the idea for this column not at my desk but while in the bathroom cleaning my teeth. Well, it could have been worse.

Here’s to a season of mists and mellow idleness for us all. I think we deserve it.

Cover of Young by Name

If you enjoyed this post, you might like to read my collected columns from my first six years of writing for the Tetbury Advertiser.

Now available in ebook from all good eretailers, and in paperback online and from your favourite independent local bookshop – just quote ISBN 9781911223030 to order.



The Tetbury Advertiser has just won another award for parish magazines – best for content and third place overall. Congratulations to the Tetbury Lions, who run it to raise money for charity, to the tireless editor Richard Smith, and to all my fellow contributors. What a team! 



Posted in Family, Travel

What A To-Do! The Tale of My Young Daughter’s Action List

Laura in Bronze Age costume at the Scottish Crannog Centre
Laura and friend travel back in time to the Bronze Age at the Scottish Crannog Centre

This evening, I’m intrigued to find my nine-year-old daughter preparing for a playdate in a very grown-up way: she’s made an action list.

I thought I was the only one in our household to use this method to try to squeeze more tasks into the day than time allows. Action lists, shopping lists, book lists – I’m constantly finding scribbled strips of paper stuffed in pockets and handbags that I’ve promptly forgotten without completing.

Even so, the act of writing down my plans gives me the illusion that I will at some point complete them. This is in spite of my self-scolding mantra: “The best way to get something done is to do it” – chanted to remind myself to stop messing about and get on with it.

Sometimes my lists are thoughtfully numbered in priority order or prefaced with egalitarian bullet-points, to deem no one item more important than the others. Either way, jotting the items down gives me the illusion that I’m in control of my hectic life. They usually contain at least 10 points.

I was therefore taken aback recently to hear an excellent management trainer declare that no action list should be bigger than a Post-it Note. My friend, who masterminds A4, Excel-formated to-do lists to manage all aspects of her life, was equally aghast.  When it comes to to-do lists, less is apparently more.

Wearing the ancient plaid at the HIghland Folk Museum, Newtonmore
Sometimes I join her to travel back in time: enjoying life in an 18th century croft at The Highland Folk Museum

But it’s not the size of my daughter’s action list that impresses me: it’s the breadth and ambition of her planned tasks. Whereas mine is full of practical mundanities that I am not looking forward to completing (place grocery order, do ironing, buy school uniform), her neat, bullet-pointed list  is positively adventurous:

  • travel back in time
  • get ship-wrecked
  • start an animal hotel

She pays no heed to  boring time constraints, budget, nor the rules of nature. I am dazzled by her exciting prospects. Her to-do list certainly puts mine in the shade.

As Walt Disney said, “If you can dream it, you can do it. Just remember this whole thing was started by a mouse.” I reckon my problem is that I’ve not been dreaming enough. So I’ve put my old action list in the bin, and I’ll share with you my new list of things to do today – all the stuff of my dreams:

  • become fluent in a language that uses pictograms instead of lettters
  • have lunch with George Orwell and Gerald Durrell
  • discover the secret of how to become invisible
  • take a trip on a real flying carpet

And even better, I can fit it my new list easily on to a Post-it note! So what are your plans for today?

The Flying Carpet by Viktor Vasnetsov (1880) Photo credit: Wikipedia
And I’m off…

If you enjoyed reading this, you might enjoy these posts on a similar theme:

How To Get Things Done

How To Lose Weight By Feeding The Birds