Interview with author Rona Vaselaar

Today, I’d like to welcome a very special guest! Rona Vaselaar is a short horror fiction author, active Redditor, and The NoSleep Podcast contributor. If you’re a fan of the podcast, you may know her as the author of “Down in the Library Basement“ and “I Love my Grandparents’ Fireplace“. As a writer, she draws inspiration from urban legends, gothic horror novels, and the realities of life in small-town Minnesota. In addition to being a writer, Rona is also an accomplished scholar. She graduated cum laude with Latin Honors from the University of Notre Dame with a major in Chinese earlier this year and she’s currently a graduate student at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies in China.

Minor Expert: First of all, it’s a pleasure to have you on my blog! Let’s start with a simple warm-up question: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Rona Vaselaar: When I’m not writing, I enjoy watching horror movies and listening to music!  My favorite band is Green Day.  I also like taking walks through the city, just to see what kind of interesting places and people I can discover.

Do you remember the first time you decided to share your writing with others? How do you think you’ve evolved creatively since then?

The first time I shared my writing with a large audience was when I began posting on NoSleep.  I had posted once or twice before but never anything serious. I had written a piece I was particularly proud of, titled “Riding the Beijing Subway” and I decided to put it on the Internet in the hopes of getting some feedback.  Since then, I have become more confident in my writing, taking more risks and adapting to new styles.  I have also become much better at accepting criticism and feedback.

A collection of your short stories, Colors of Death, Fifteen Tales of Horror,  was published in 2015. Tell me a bit more about the experience of being a published author. How did you go down this route?

I had been a regular contributor with Thought Catalog for a few months at that point and I saw they offered publishing deals for some of their writers.  I’d always dreamed of being a published author, so I took a risk and sent them a collection of my stories.  They accepted it and we got to work right away.  It’s been very interesting to see my name on the cover of an actual tangible book and the experience gave me a burst of confidence to keep working towards my eventual goal of publishing a novel.

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Does being a graduate student leave any time for writing? Do you have a writing routine? What’s a typical day for you?

Finding time to write has always been a challenge, graduate student or not!  Additionally, I am a somewhat sporadic writer and have never been able to adapt to a routine – there are times when I write ten stories a week, and times when I only write one story a month.  When I’m feeling inspired, I typically tend to sit down and write the entire story in one sitting.  Afterwards, I take a break before I begin the editing process.  I am not a fan of editing, and that is the one thing I definitely need to improve on.

Let’s talk about your fiction for a moment. What genres of horror do you feel most drawn to as an author?

I’ve always been very attached to psychological horror.  There’s something so terrifying yet alluring about mind-games, especially mind-games that you can’t hope to win.  On a less serious note, I like the slasher genre and I especially enjoy slashers that twist typical plot conventions. Cherry Falls is an amazing film that defies slasher expectations, if anyone is interested!

The characters in your fiction often revisit places and stories from their childhood. What is it about that period in life that inspires you?

I think I’m most inspired by this period in my life because it was a very difficult time for me.  Although I have a very loving family, many of us – myself included – were ostracized in my hometown and underwent a lot of discrimination and bullying from other people.  This led me to develop a great attachment to the macabre, the outcast, and the taboo.  Although I have always been naturally drawn to horror, my attraction to it intensified during this period.  I think I often return to this period because that’s what I seek to convey with my stories – the loneliness, the melancholy, and also that sickening feeling of never belonging, of existing in a space that just isn’t quite right.

One of the major themes in your narratives is the complex emotional relationships between the character and the source of danger (I’m thinking about stories such as “The Ballad of Sadie and Madeline” and “I Love my Grandparents’ Fireplace“, but also “God Made Girls“). What is it about those complicated and very often contradictory emotions that fascinates you?

I have an intense love of villains.  I tend to believe that the world isn’t really black and white – it’s composed of shades of grey with very few moral truths.  You can make an argument for almost anything, if you really put your heart into it.  I enjoy making my readers – and myself – fall in love with something you should hate.  “I Love my Grandparents’ Fireplace” is a great example.  Many people were actually angry with me for making the narrator feel an attachment to the monster.  The thing is, those monsters are the scariest.  The ones you can’t hate.  Because they’re the ones that sneak past your defenses and get you.

What makes a great horror story then?

A great horror story has many different elements, but a few stick out to me.  First of all, a great horror story knows how to use general plot devices without becoming derivative.  A good plot twist is infinitely difficult to execute.  I know I’ve often failed in this endeavor.  I greatly respect anyone who can incorporate a plot twist successfully.  Another important factor is the description. If an author is too descriptive, they take agency away from the reader.  This is typically a bad thing because the most frightening nightmare will always be the one you see in your own head.  Therefore, you want to leave a little to the reader’s imagination.  Let them fill in the blanks and they’ll scare themselves better than you could ever have done on your own.  Overall, though, a great horror story gives you that sinking feeling in your stomach, the one that stays with you for hours and forces you to think about the dark things we like to shy away from.

What’s the next step in your career?

I’ve begun noticing that I am gravitating out of the short story form.  My stories are becoming longer and more involved.  I have written a few novellas already, and am beginning to feel more comfortable in the format.  I have also written a draft of a novel.  It’s not particularly good – first tries at something like that rarely are – but it gave me an enormous feeling of accomplishment and helped me feel more comfortable with the form.  I am hoping to write a novel during this year’s NaNoWriMo [National Novel Writing Month], hopefully something worthwhile enough to self-publish.  One day, I hope to be picked up by a publishing company.  Until then, I’ll keep working hard to improve my writing!

Finally, if you could pass on a single piece of advice to yet-to-be-published authors out there reading this interview, what would it be?

I’m going to sort of cop-out on this one, because the best advice I’ve ever received – and can ever give – is to read Stephen King’s On Writing.  His advice is applicable to authors of any genre.  It is concise, informative, and peppered with hilarious stories.  I have learned more from his book than any other writing article or book that I’ve read.  I strongly recommend it to everyone.

Where can readers discover more about your work?

They can follow my Facebook page, @RonaVaselaar, which includes stories about my life that inspire my own work as well as pictures and general updates on my writings.

Rona’s collection of short stories, Colors of Death, Fifteen Tales of Horror, is available on Amazon and iBooks. If you want to listen to more stories written by Rona and brought to life by excellent voice actors, visit www.thenosleeppodcast.com.

Scary podcasts for Halloween

We don’t really have seasons in Singapore but I’ve heard that autumn is in full swing in certain places, so I hope you all have your cosy blankets, pumpkin spice lattes and warm socks ready. I’m sure you have also prepared a reading list or checked Netflix lineup for those cold-weather evenings. 

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a bookish, stay-at-home type, therefore cold and rainy days never bothered me. Unsurprisingly, when my primary school teacher introduced me to the local library, I got hooked immediately. I can still remember the sense of freedom that place gave me; the idea that I could choose my own reading materials was exhilarating. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been surrounded by books, but as a seven-year-old I seldom had any say in my parents’ literary choices. I soon became a dedicated bookworm and rarely went home after classes without making a stop at the library. Being an obedient child, I always returned with at least one novel by a school-appropriate author, such as Astrid Lindgren, Lucy Maud Montgomery and Mark Twain… but the fact is that I secretely craved horror. And when it came to kids’ horror, NOTHING gave me more pleasure than a new novel by R. L. Stine, full of teen drama and gruesome, bloody murder.

I’ve recently come across this hilarious blog doing recaps of the Fear Street series and it gave me all the feels. I mean, come on, these novels couldn’t be more perfect even if they tried:

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That hair, those fonts, that ice pick.

Twenty years and one diploma in American Literature later, I abandoned novels for non-fiction and popular science books, but my penchant for everything spooky holds strong. Hence, my utter fascination with horror fiction podcasts. Paradoxically, I’m a scaredy-cat who can only listen to those shows during the day, but they are so worth it. Because the Halloween season is here, I thought I could share some of my favourites with you. 

My podcast picks for Halloween

1. The NoSleep Podcast 

Top stories from the NoSleep subreddit, turned into beautifully produced, thrilling audio drama. A brilliant ensemble of voice actors, climatic music, and some of the scariest horror stories out there… what’s not to like? You can listen to hour-long episodes for free or support the production by buying a Season Pass and getting access to extra scariness.

Where should you start? I’d recommend Episode 22 of the Season 7, Rona Vaselaar’s story “Down in the Library Basement” in particular. Rona was kind enough to do a special Halloween interview with me and it will appear on the blog this Friday!

2. Lore

Technically, this is not fiction but rather a disciplined study of folk tales, myths and legends. Author Aaron Mahnke, the host of this amazing show, is an excellent storyteller who never fails to send shivers down my spine. His well-researched, deeply moving tales bring forward the world of superstition, prejudice and fear.

Where should you start? I’d recommend Episode 11: Black Stockings.

3. Limetown 

Call me naïve but after listening to the first episode I immediately went online to double-check that this story was indeed fiction. I’ve since listened to all episodes of this show about three times and I’m still deeply under its spell.

Where should you start? Episode 1: What We Know (just scroll down to the bottom of the page)

4. The Black Tapes and 5. its sister show, Tanis

One of my most cherished guilty pleasures is jumping from one disturbing Wikipedia article to another and chasing creepypastas, so when I first discovered The Black Tapes, I binge-listened for days. Both shows have already wrapped up their second seasons, so there’s plenty of episodes for you to listen to.

Where should you start? Definitely from the beginning: Episode 101: A Tale of Two Tapes. Part 1. and Episode 101: Seeking Tanis, Runner Available.

6. Archive 81

This found-footage show is truly a gem. Likeable, relatable main character, good writing, short-but-sweet episodes. Season One has ended but if you feel like you’d like to hear more from its creators, check out their new post-apocalyptic show The Deep Vault.

Where should you start? Episode 1: A Body In A New Place (just scroll down to the bottom of the page)

7. Small Town Horror 

This serialised docudrama, already in it’s second season, follows one man’s quest to solve the mystery behind his own kidnapping. The pace of this show is pretty slow, but there’s undeniable tension in each episode.

Where should you start? Episode 01: Homecoming (just scroll to the bottom of the page)

8. Uncanny County

I’ll finish this list with something lighter. If you liked Tom B. Stone’s Graveyard School series as a kid and were looking for something with a similar vibe, you’ll appreciate the absurd, dark humour of this quirky show.

Where should you start? Each episode of Uncanny County tells a separate story so you can start wherever you want, but I’d recommend Episode 4: Coulrophobia because CLOWNS!

 

Best,

Marta

My Bucket List: an introduction

I’ve already admitted that I enjoy making lists and that there’s one for any occasion, so it was just a matter of time before I mentioned the bucket list. The phrase has been around since a Hollywood movie brought it into popular culture in 2007 (I honestly didn’t know that this term is so recent, but it seems that there’s no evidence bucket list was used before 2006), but just for those of my readers who are not familiar with the expression: a bucket list is a list of things that one wishes to do, see, or accomplish before they proverbially kick the bucket, or, in other words, die.

Morbid much? Apparently, people seem to have more problems with BLs. According to some claims, bucket lists make it easier to endlessly put off doing all those amazing things, as the end of your life is too vague of a deadline (no pun intended). Well, I guess I can relate. Even though I understand that making your dreams priorities is tough and what usually stands in the way is, like, you know, regular life, I can definitely see where the critique is coming from. While I truly enjoy planning future travels and activities with my partner and adding new items to our (multiple!) digital lists, I rarely block time in my calendar to actually go through with them. 

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List all the things!

Using my personal example, I always dreamed about doing the Camino de Santiago hike on my own. I came up with this idea years ago, when I was still a student and going on a month-long holiday wasn’t that big of a deal – I know that embarking on that adventure would be extremely difficult for me now, especially since I live on a completely different continent. Had I made that commitment six years ago, I would be richer for the experience today.

Another argument, often made by travel bloggers, is that a BL reduces the scope of your experience instead of deepening it, and that you may end up ticking activities off your list in the same manner you’d tick off grocery items while shopping. I can partly agree on that, I love a good rant about the dangers of consumerism as much as the next person. Between the rapid growth of the so-called Experience Industry, commodification of the cultural attractions around the world, and the modern corruption of the natural wonders (Thailand had to close three islands to tourists in order to protect the environment, for goodness sake!), genuine experiences seem more and more difficult to find.

While I could agree with the above arguments, I also believe that those problems stem from the very superficial treatment of the Bucket List concept. As guys from the Live Your List put it, “it’s not about doing crazy stuff for the sake of adrenaline” but about improving your life and living up to your full potential. Ryan Eller sums it up beautifully in his TEDx Talk:

Live with intention.

In order to make the Bucket List truly work for you, you need to be intentional about it – it’s less about listing all the cool things that you’ve seen on National Geographic, and more about making a conscious decision to achieve something worthwhile. If you are worried that you can’t seem to fit your dreams into your busy schedule, Trav Bell, The Bucket List Guy, has some wise words about making the commitment and integrating your BL into your life plan. You can listen to him discuss it here. If you need some inspiration on how to enjoy life responsibly and ethically – this is definitely a conversation worth having – you can read more about it here and here.

And if you want to reflect on your past achievements, try putting together a Reverse Bucket List. On the one hand, it encourages you to reflect on your past decisions and gives you this “How did I get here?” moment. On the other hand, it’s a great way to practice gratitude – especially, if you think to yourself “I never thought I would do that” at least once. It’s a really fun list to make, so I recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone who needs a bit of a motivation boost.

My Reverse Bucket List:

When I look back at my life, the first thing that comes to my mind are travel destinations. I promise to tell you a bit more about some of those travels one day:

  • Joined the crowd celebrating the Bastille Day on Champs-Élysées in Paris.
  • Played retro video games in Akihabara in Tokyo.
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Otaku paradise
  • Enjoyed a proper caña in Malasaña, Madrid’s hottest neighbourhood.
  • Breathed sharp Atlantic air one cloudy morning on an empty beach on the western coast of Ireland.
  • Listened to a German brass band while sipping Glühwein on a Christmas market in Frankfurt am Main.
  • Attended an exceptional coffee tasting experience in Oslo.
  • Came to truly appreciate canned fish after spending a lovely evening in this little bar in Lisbon.
  • Watched the sunset from the top of the Empire State Building.
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Damn you, New York! Why do you have to be so pretty?
  • Lived and worked in London for almost a year.

And finally…

  • Moved to Singapore.

 

I know that I want to experience more things like that. I have some thoughts of how to get there, so tomorrow I’ll make a new, better bucket list for myself, and one that I’ll stick to.

 

Best,

Marta

 

Podcasts I love: celebrating friendships!

I’m off on holiday to sun myself silly and learn a bit more about South-East Asia, but I’ll be back in October with new posts about coding, networking, learning foreign languages, and improving decision-making skills.

I’m currently struggling with packing lightly for the trip – IndieTraveller has some really valuable tips. To put myself in a holiday mood, I decided to create a fun playlist for my flight. I have discovered that I prefer podcasts to music these days: if there’s anything that can keep me on a treadmill for more than 40 minutes, it’s either a biscuit or an episode of my favourite podcast. First of all, I’m not a very musical gal. Secondly, they are free, stimulating, and there’s just so much to choose from.

Funnily enough, all of the podcasts I’ve chosen for the trip are hosted by friends and perfect for sharing with your best mate. So call your bestie and get them on the podcast bandwagon. See you in less than two weeks!

Looking for a perfect podcast? How about one of these?

Call your girlfriend – CYG is a podcast for long-distance girlfriends everywhere. Hosted by Aminatou Sow (a digital strategist and one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in tech) and Ann Friedman (a freelance journalist and New York magazine columnist), two brilliant and seriously funny ladies who call each other to discuss pop culture, politics, and feminism. You might want to start here.

Being Boss – BB is a podcast for creative entrepreneurs with Emily Thompson (founder of Indie Shopography, a design and strategy web studio) & Kathleen Shannon (co-founder of Braid Creative, a personal branding company for creative entrepreneurs), business besties and good friends. If you are looking for some great advice, engaging interviews and inspiring stories brought to you by fabulous lady bosses, it’s a podcast for you. For instance, if you’re having a hard time with your online metrics, start here.

Throwing Shade – Self-described “feminasty” Erin Gibson and “homosensual” Bryan Safi form a hilarious duo with an attention span of golden retriever puppies. In their weekly podcast they discuss “all the issues important to ladies and gays”: politics, sex, pop culture and more. Dangerously funny!

Can I Pet Your Dog – Do I even have to explain why I absolutely love this one? CIPYD is a weekly comedy podcast for dog lovers, hosted by a dog owner Allegra Ringo and a “dog wanter” Renee Colvert. It’s too perfect for words, so start listening immediately.

Other notable examples:

The PanDolly Podcast

Black Girls Talking

Robot Best Friend

Best,

Marta

To-do lists: a guide for control freaks and rule-breakers

 

My younger sister and I shared a room for sixteen years and it was fun most of the time. I can’t say we never quarrelled but as a young kid you usually enjoy having a playmate around at all times. The problems began when we hit our teens and suddenly discovered that our personalities differed. And I mean, a lot. Our desks became a perfect manifestation of those differences: mine was neat and tidy, except for an occasional pile of books or an abandoned tea mug on the side; hers was in a constant state of disarray, with books, toys, art supplies, CDs, empty dishes and scraps of paper, all piled up and pushed aside if she needed to clear up some workspace. That unruly mess bothered me so much that every now and then I’d clean it all up in my sisterly frustration. And then she’d ask:

Hey, where’s that super important list of random things?

She’d make little lists and draw very detailed calendars on those wrinkled scraps of paper, you see. And the seventeen-year-old me would throw them away, because why on earth would you write down important stuff on the back of an old receipt? My notes were neat and organised, hers were not. And it took me a while before I understood that those were just two different approaches to information management. Sure, she was still figuring out her preferred system, but even then it was clear that it would eventually be different from mine.

This whole story came back to me in a wave last week, while I was listening to a recent episode of Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast. The main takeaway from that part of the program was that the way you note things down and visualise your tasks should reflect your personality, lifestyle, and relieve stress surrounding day-to-day tasks. This is why finding a system that works best for you is so important.

Below you’ll find a few of my favourite methods. I tried all of them and they really work. They are all paper-centric, but I promise to cover digital tools in another post.

 

A distraction-free list

My typical daily to-do list is very short, as I try to avoid scheduling more than three high-impact tasks per day. This leaves room for any emerging issues that require urgent attention. It does not include any lingering five-minute tasks – I usually plan them the day before and deal with them first thing in the morning.

Obviously, many things can come up during the day, but I loathe distractions and interruptions, so if anything lands on my lap while I’m busy, I quickly determine whether it needs attending to immediately or not. Anything that can wait till later goes into the “Notes” section. If I have ten minutes between crucial tasks or at the end of the day, I deal with a couple of those.

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Personal Kanban

This visual planning system was originally developed for Toyota to improve their manufacturing efficiency. The goal was to make the scheduling process transparent and easy to follow, show the team the amount of work in progress and the number of tasks still pending. The industrial version was then adapted for personal use (you can read more about it here), and is one of the greatest task management tools I’ve ever used.

The rules are simple:

  1. Break down the process (your goal / project / entire life) into small, manageable bits and write them down on sticky notes. Take your time and make sure that each task is well defined and specific (e.g. “Proofread the final version of chapter 3 of my thesis.”).
  2. Prepare your board: you can use a whiteboard, a wall, or a page in your notebook.
  3. Decide which tasks you need to focus on first. Place them in the “to-do” section.
  4. Pick three items that will become your Work In Progress and place them in the “doing” section. The number of WIP items should not exceed 3. Once you’re done with a task, you can start working on another item from your “to-do” list.
  5. Once dealt with, the item should be moved into the “done” section. It doesn’t have to stay there forever (Yes, you can trash this sticky note at some point. I mean, what’s done is done, right?), but there’s certain pleasure to be had from ticking things off your list in a very visual way.

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Now, let’s talk about the layout for a second. Creators of the original method suggest three columns: “to-do” (also known as “backlog” or “options” ), “doing” and “done”. My preferred approach, however, is slightly different: I’m a big fan of the Freezer, a subsection of backlog that contains tasks that are currently outside of the main scope.

Allow me to use my own goals as an example. My current kanban is devoted entirely to my online coding courses and each sticky note represents one of the languages or tools that I want to explore. There are many languages and frameworks that I’d love to master one day, but right now I’m focusing on the fundamentals. I still want to include all those cool things in my kanban, though. The Freezer is a perfect solution for a situation like that: I can go back to those great ideas once I’ve got the time and the resources.

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If there’s one thing that I learned about project management, it’s that it’s usually done on sticky notes.

Kanban is my absolute favourite when it comes to planning complex projects and visualising my long-term goals. I occasionally suffer from Too Many Ideas syndrome,  and this technique is very efficient in reducing the “bad” kind of multitasking, as it only allows you to work on three things at a time. It’s very flexible as well: you can add your own columns and sections if you wish or colour code the whole thing.

Eisenhower matrix

I want to write a separate post about the Eisenhower Matrix, but I still think it’s worth mentioning here. This is not exactly a list, but a visual tool which might help you categorise and prioritise your tasks. It is based on a single principle: urgent and important is not the same thing. The matrix simplifies decision-making and defining your points of focus, allows you to to weigh each task against the value it adds to your life… and works beautifully with sticky notes. 

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And now 3 options for all you beautiful rule-breaking moths out there: 

  • Done list: Whenever you feel bad about not being productive, ditch your typical to-dos and use a “done” list instead. It’s really difficult to feel unaccomplished after you looked at a list full of your achievements.
  • Could-do lists: If you ever feel overwhelmed by obligations and the word “should” sends shivers down your spine, it’s a sign you might want to make a “could-do” list. Thinking about the tasks ahead of you as opportunities instead of duties will certainly take the edge off your busy day. Sure, it’s just playing semantics, but motivation is really all about perspective.
  • “I will do one thing today” list: focusing on one task every day and getting it done can really boost your self-esteem and help you develop healthy, productive habits. I have serious problems forcing myself to be productive during weekends and holidays and this simple idea helps me immensely.

 

Whether you are a nine-to-fiver, an entrepreneur, a stay-at-home mum or a student, you probably need some sort of a system to manage your workload. I hope you’ll find some of my tips useful and I’d love to hear more about your favourite organisation and time management tips, so feel free to leave a comment below.

Best,

Marta

Must-read: Eli Goldratt’s The Goal

Imagine that a hypothetical, MBA-holding friend starts complaining to you about his well-paid job. “It seems that we’re not making any money,” he says. “Our customer product deliveries are seriously delayed, I get angry calls from the corporate executives all the time. Yesterday, our division manager came by to give direct orders to my employees. To make matters worse, my wife left me and I have no idea why.” I’d probably respond with some sympathetic cliché about work-life balance, simultaneously resisting the urge to punch him in the face and tell him that the person who paid for his MBA program should get their money back. Fortunately enough, this hapless manager is not my friend but a fictional character of Eli Goldratt’s ground-breaking business novel.

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement

If two months ago anyone told me that a book on project management can be a real page turner, I probably wouldn’t believe them. Especially, if they told me that the majority of the plot takes place in a provincial factory in the 1980s and the characters look at spreadsheets and diagrams most of the time. I remember my university lecturer mentioning the title and saying “It’s a novel about project management… Oh, and there’s a sequel!”. Back then, I was pretty convinced that there’s no chance this book would be up my alley. Boy, was I wrong!

First of all, factories are pretty fascinating:

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Secondly, when I finally got around to reading The Goal, I became more invested than a teenage Twilight fangirl. Seriously, I even saved a page in my journal to fill it with a long list of my favourite quotes.

 

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Project management and adult colouring books, obviously.

The book has definitely aged a bit: every now and then the characters discuss the possible advantages of this new thingy called “computer”, while the unassuming “data guy”, who kind of knows how to use this mysterious machine, is trying to figure out how to be useful. The characters aren’t too relatable either. For the first half of the novel Alex Rogo, the desperate manager, is an angry man-baby, who not only didn’t see things coming, but refused to see them once they slapped him in the face. I’d usually summarise his problems to my boyfriend, rolling my eyes so hard it hurt.

But I kept on going.

It’s probably because, as odd as it may sound, the satisfaction from reading this novel does not necessarily come from following the plot. There’s this one character, you see – Jonah, a physics professor, turned corporate consultant (author’s badly disguised alter ego, in fact), who agrees to help Rogo save the business. Interestingly enough, Jonah refuses to solve Alex’s problems for him but rather, adopting the Socratic method, allows him to figure everything out for himself, teaching him critical thinking, problem solving and basic common sense. Throughout the book Goldratt addresses a number of issues that are surprisingly relevant today: the difference between productivity and efficiency, the importance of work-life balance, critical approach to authority, defining appropriate metrics, and the purpose of relationships. His comments on those matters are to the point and the advice he gives should be just as applicable in a modern corporate setting as it is in this made up factory. 

No, The Goal is neither your typical rainy-day read, nor a standard business handbook, but I think it’s still worth your time – especially, if you’ve just started figuring out how management works. If you’d like to learn more about Eli Goldratt and his “theory of constraints”, you should visit the official website of the Theory of Constraints Institute. You could also start with this exhaustive review by Seth Stevenson or buckle down and just read the novel!

Best,

Marta

Bullet Journal (and many right ways to do it)

Those who know me can confirm that I can’t function without my notebooks. At the moment I own three: a work journal, a personal diary, and a blog/programming notebook. I’ll talk about them in separate posts but my point is that I’m definitely a stationery geek. I love all the digital tools (Keep, Trello, my Water Time app) but I still need my calendars, to-do lists, Tombow brush pens and Zebra midliners. So when I learned about bullet journalling I knew this is something I need to try.

The numbers behind this stationery phenomenon are impressive: the Bullet Journal Junkies group on Facebook has already reached over 58 000 members. For comparison, the Getting Things Done system has been around for 15 long years now and its official Facebook group has accrued over 69 000 proud fans. I think that most of you already know what a BuJo is, but for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, it’s an amazingly simple yet methodical journalling system, especially appealing to creative types. It allows you to transform a humble notebook (or, in it’s less budget-friendly version, a Leuchtturm1917 or a dotted Moleskine) into a customized productivity tool.

The impact of the original system

It all started as a fun pet project a few years ago. A man struggled with his own organization problems, came up with a creative solution and developed a simple system that allowed him to be on top of things, then shared the idea with a friend in need. The man’s name was Ryder Carrol and his method became known as the Bullet Journal. I mean, seriously, how soothing this minimal layout is:

bujoscreen

bulletjournal.com

So, I’d say it’s good enough as it is. If you need additional inspiration, you can watch the easy-to-follow YouTube tutorials, study the official website and read the blog. However, the encouraging adaptability of Carrol’s paper log system must have produced a sudden spike of interest in journalling in general, because if you perform a Google image search on “bullet journal”, the spreads look nothing like the original idea.

The Creative Superstars and the ordinary folks

The BuJos I see on Pinterest are usually extremely elaborate, spreads decorated with calligraphy, drawings, bright washi tape, stickers and doodles. And hey, it’s definitely a great thing (office supplies companies must be on cloud nine). I’ll support anything that boosts your creativity and allows you to organize your life in a better way. It’s enjoyable, relaxing, it encourages mindfulness. The talented bunch of people blogging and instagramming about bullet journalling includes a variety of artists, from my absolute favourite, minimalist Ursala @honeyrozes, to the amazing Heidi @thebulletjournaladdict, web famous Kara from Boho Berry or creative Natasha and her colorful illustrations on howtobulletjournal.com. The beauty of some of those journals is overwhelming. But then I attempt to create (and photograph) my own spreads… and, well, this is what I get: 

 

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My monthly spread
p1050395My weekly spreads

And you know what? I’m totally ok with that. Seriously, try reading this very honest post by Shelby’s dyslexic husband and then tell me you lack the skills to try journalling.

It’s for everyone.

You don’t have to have exquisite handwriting, decorate your spreads with baroque ornaments and / or yards of washi tape. Lose sleep over a messed-up layout. If the journal stresses you out, you’re doing it wrong. Try out new things. Modify those that don’t work. Get inspired. Show it to others. Or don’t. Remember: it’s yours to wreck. In case you need some additional guidence, read this lovely post, but you totally don’t have to. Perhaps this generally inspiring flexibility of the system is where the BuJo’s charm lies. But if you ask me, I’ll tell you it’s the community. People in my Facebook group ask questions about spreads and pens, sure, but they also share moving personal stories, good and bad news, seek advice on how to include a new birth or the passing of a loved one in their journal. We inspire each other and we become vulnerable together. I guess my search for productivity helped me find my tribe.

bulletjournal

 

Best,

Marta