Resolution Review | Manage your editorial calendar (and your life) for free, with MyToDos.

NOTE: WordPress.ORG bloggers apparently have access to an integrated free editorial calendar, but we dot-com-ers don’t. For us, there are plenty of paid options out there, but most are either geared toward a writing team, or expensive, or both. (And when I say expensive, I mean it. I would have been happy to pay a reasonable one-time price for a program with the features I wanted, but these puppies have high monthly fees I can’t afford.)

WHY YOU NEED AN EDITORIAL CALENDAR

An editorial calendar is used by bloggers, publishers, businesses, and groups to control publication of content across different media, for example, newspaper, magazine, blog, email newsletters, and social media outlets. — Wikipedia

Anyone who wants to be  an organized, successful, productive writer (and/or blogger) needs a decent editorial calendar. Bloggers need to plan content schedules. Authors need to track deadlines.  All writers need a system for keeping track of all the ideas that flit into their minds … because those beauties will flit right back out if they aren’t captured.

Unfortunately some of the best ideas for future blogs, stories or scenes appear precisely when it is least convenient to pin then down, when we are supposed to be fully engaged with the project at hand. In that situation, we open a notepad document or, worse, grab a scrap of paper to make a quick note. ‘Sounds fine, but it doesn’t work well in practice. Such notes get misfiled or go missing with alarming frequency, and we might as well have not had the brilliant thought in the first place.

WHY GOOGLE CALENDAR DOESN’T WORK FOR COLLECTING IDEAS

Even before I knew what an editorial calendar was, I was cobbling together the functionality of one from documents stored in Gmail or on Evernote and my Google Calendar.

I have been using Google calendar for years, to keep track of what’s going on with my family. Every member has access to it, and that means that idea notations are distracting clutter for everyone, including me. (Hey, you want that kind of calendar to tell you quickly who has to be at work or school and when, not that Mom might-maybe write about black-eyed children this month.)

In Google Calendar, there is a function to see a single calendar category, but after using that you have to click all the individual calendar categories, one at a time, to make them visible again. That’s a pain. Plus, it insists that you allot a particular date and time to a task, which doesn’t work for capturing ideas for future blog posts or short stories. I believe Google Calendar has made at least a token effort at creating a tasks section but it focuses on the accepted wisdom that a task must be given a particular due date … which isn’t quite what we need when we’re generating a list of future possibilities.

WHY LISTS DON’T WORK FOR PLANNING YOUR POSTING OR WRITING SCHEDULE

Until I found MyToDos, I used first Gmail, then Evernote to try to create organized lists of future posts. The problem there is that I shift things around ALL THE TIME. On a day that I intended to write about a horror-themed video game, I chose instead to write about Richard Matheson … and because it’s my blog, that was okay.

It mat not be hard to change the order in a list, but it’s really easy for listed items to become disassociated from dates, themes and schedules when you have to look back and forth between a calendar program and a list document.

WHY MYTODOS IS THE PERFECT FREE PROGRAM FOR BUILDING YOUR EDITORIAL CALENDAR

mytodos instructions free editorial calendar

From the site. Click to enlarge.

Even though MyToDos does not bill itself as an editorial calendar, it might as well have been designed to be one. The key is its emphasis on the TASKS rather than the dates. All tasks are entered into a project list. From there, they can be dragged to the calendar or to another project list. You can have an unlimited number of project lists, but only four of them show at any given time in the main view–

You know what? The easiest way to demonstrate the awesomeness of this program is to show you.

**Renae wanders off on a quest to learn how to do a screen capture video. Some time later, she returns with the goods.**

This video will give you an overview of the program:

NOTE, NEXT DAY: I intended to do a second video today, to show some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned from using the MyToDos program over time. Unfortunately, the screen capture program I used to make last night’s video seems to have become a useless brick overnight. (Does anyone know why CamStudio would work great the first time it’s used but then not at all on the second attempt? Is it a glitch or something?)

ANYWAY …

If I can figure out how to use MyToDos as an effective editorial calendar, you can.

There isn’t a lot of documentation on the site, but working with MyToDos is genuinely intuitive. As with any software, you need to learn to work within the confines of the program. In the case of MyToDos, it’s helpful to have a game plan ready as you go in, to help you find tasks easily in what may become long lists.

  • Carefully think about how to create a logical set of project lists. Refine as needed.
  • Don’t be afraid to make many project lists. It’s easy to combine or condense later.
  • REMEMBER that MyToDos sorts all items in a given list numerically and alphabetically.
  • To have numbered items appear in the correct order, use a two or three digit (as needed) notation, like this: not 1,2,3…8,9,10 but 01,02,03…08,09,10 – otherwise, 10 will sort ABOVE 2.
  • Use prefix codes to keep similar items together. I preface all my future Body Preservation posts like so:  BP | (recipe or article idea)
  • Don’t put anything on the calendar until you really mean to do it on a particular day. It’s easy enough to change things and move things around, but avoid clutter.
  • Remember that seeing an apparently “empty” day in the past on the calendar (when using the default view) is a GOOD thing – it means you did everything you set out to do.
  • EDIT: In the video, I say that you have to find a task in its home list, on the my todos tab, to mark it completed. ‘Just realized that if you DRAG AND DROP a task to the check mark icon next to the task entry box, it works great.

BONUS: REPEATING TASK REMINDERS

In my video, I forgot to show you an additional feature of the calendar view. On the PREFERENCES tab, you may set it up so that small, clickable icons will appear in the upper space of each day.

editorial calendar icon view

Screenshot. Click to enlarge.

Options include:

outside1 Outside : Go outside and get some fresh air, appreciate nature 

finance Finance : Pay your bills, balance your checkbook, get your finances in order

exercise Exercise : Take a walk around the office, walk the dog, get some fresh air

write1Write : Keep a journal, work on your book, post to your blog  

See? I told you it might have well been designed as an editorial calendar. 

*****

body preservation

This post concludes a five-part series called Resolutions Review. They will be accessible in the Body Preservation section of the blog. Other titles include:

1) Resolutions Review | Did you get control of your weight, fitness, money, and work issues? (Plus power poses.)

2) Resolutions Review | How “You Need A Budget” (YNAB) helped us save $1000 in less than 3 months.

3) Resolutions Review | How Spark People helped me lose 10 pounds in 11 weeks without dieting.

4) Resolutions Review | Write more with fun (free) productivity tools: Focus Booster, Write or Die, Camp NaNoWriMo, WriMoProg & progress meters.


Resolutions Review: How “You Need A Budget” (YNAB) helped us save $1000 in less than 3 months.

On Monday, I introduced this month’s series in a post called Resolutions Review: did you get control of your weight, fitness, money, and work issues? (Plus Power Poses.) Tackling this series a bit of a stretch for a paranormal-themed blog, but less so if you understand that I define the word paranormal broadly.

Para- / par-ə / Prefix. ”Alongside, near, beyond, altered, contrary to.”
norma/ nawr-muhl / Adjective. “Conforming to the standard; usual; regular; natural.”

No matter how far I stray from topics like ghosts, cryptids and mysteries, I am always thinking about how to make life better and easier for my kindred. These articles will become part of a section of the blog I’m developing, dedicated to living a (moderately) paranormal lifestyle.

body preservation

There. That’s out of the  way.

*****

Today, let’s take a sharp turn toward the concrete and practical and talk about money.

You can skip this next part if it’s too long and you want to get to the review of the financial planning software we’ve found. Just scroll 🙂

Here’s our backstory, told as succinctly as possible, in case you need or want to know what our situation was before YNAB:

My husband and I married at 23, and I brought him a four year old daughter as a wedding present. (Shout out to Pooka.) We were determined to live a very Ozzie & Harriett kind of lifestyle, and though he was at the beginning of a promising career as a software engineer, the paychecks didn’t stretch far enough to pay for all the “normal” things we wanted. Obviously, then, we financed the lifestyle we wanted with credit cards. (It was the early 90s.) We bought used cars (though we weren’t able to fix them when they broke.) We bought a house (though we weren’t good at or interested in home maintenance projects.) Five years later, we had a son. (Shout out to The Boy.)

But, other than my husband’s 401K, we had no savings.

Eventually of course, we realized how over-extended we were. We entered into a non-profit debt consolidation program. We decided we wanted to simplify our lifestyle, so we sold the house in town (which was falling apart anyway) and moved into a “less expensive” house, out to the country so we could be a bit more self-sustaining and finish raising the kids on a min-farm.

But, other than my husband’s 401K, we had no savings.

Over the next 5-7 years, we repaired the damage we’d done with our early credit-fueled spending. We loved the farm, though it ended up costing a LOT more than living in town had, despite the lower sticker price. Even small scale hobby farming is harder than it looks, and requires more of an investment than you’d think. (And we still weren’t good at home maintenance stuff.) Then there was the added cost of my husband’s commute, which was more than an hour each way, on good roads. (We live in Minnesota. There were many more days of bad roads than good.) But we were surviving, and our credit score had recovered. We carried little debt. We used a big bonus my husband received to almost completely pay for TWO brand new, if eminently practical, vehicles. (We loved the extended bumper-to-bumper warranties and learned that we probably should have been buying new from the get-go.)

But, other than my husband’s 401K, we had no savings.

Then some sort of vorpal tunnel opened up beneath us. Elder-care for my mother (who had me late in her life) — which had always been a bit of a drain on our time and finances — intensified. Our daughter received an entirely unexpected double diagnosis of thyroid cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. (We had good insurance, but there are so many expenses that come along with worry over family members … and in this case we were lucky to have our girl living with us, but my mother was a 45 minute drive away.) Gas prices were soaring. To top it off, though we were barely aware of it at the time, the housing market crashed and our home mortgage was suddenly seriously “upside down.” We had to tap those credit cards we hadn’t been using, and we were grateful to have them.

But, other than my husband’s 401K, we had no savings.

Then, two and a half years ago, my husband was let go from the job he’d had for ten years. We know it was ten years, because — just the month before he got the pink slip — they threw him a big party at work to celebrate his anniversary. We didn’t see the job loss coming. That’s when we became truly aware of how bad the economy had become. We knew he’d probably be job searching for at least six months. We knew we were going to lose the house.

Because, other than my husband’s 401K, we had no savings.

My husband’s company gave him (and another 3-4  of his mature, well-established, expensive co-workers) a nice severance package. After much thought, and taking into account all of the developments in our family, we moved from the farmlet to an affordable apartment, near the college my son would attend, in a lovely town, close to the Twin Cities. We both set to looking for work, even though I was nearly unemployable. We lived on the severance package until that ran out, then on a combination of unemployment and the pay from the near-minimum-wage job I eventually found. (At the #paranormalhotel, of course.) Because God hates us, both my son and I needed expensive dental work during this time, and we didn’t have insurance.

Savings? Hell, we weren’t covering all the utilities.

ELEVEN MONTHS after losing his job, my husband found another. We paid off the dental balances. We got caught up on utilities. We  bought some jeans that didn’t have holes in the knee. We realized that we’re basically starting all over again — at 46, with a lousy credit rating and a foreclosure to our names. We came to the conclusion that we want to move to the Mid-Atlantic, to get away from Minnesota winters and get closer to where our daughter has settled in North Carolina, and then we realized …

We still didn’t know how to save any money to make that move possible.

We took an online class, which helped. We learned about zero-balance budgeting. We tried to work with Quicken, but quickly discovered that its budgeting features didn’t do what we wanted them to do. In November, I set myself the task of finding some sort of financial planning software that would help us meet our goals. After several false starts, I found You Need A Budget, aka YNAB.

And now we have $1000.00 in a real savings account.

YOU NEED A BUDGET: FINANCIAL PLANNING SOFTWARE

I can’t introduce the software better than the professionals over at YNAB do. Below, I’ve provided a selection of links and videos that will give you both an excellent overview of the product and some details abut how it works. What I can do is tell you why it worked for us.

What we love about this program:

  • There’s nothing tricksome or scammy involved in the process. All the advice offered is founded on safe, practical, common-sense practices.
  • Granted, that means there’s nothing revolutionary in the system. What is revolutionary is how EASY this program makes it to do the right thing.
  • The software interface is clean, comprehensive and easy to follow intuitively, once you understand it.
  • The companion cell phone app makes it amazingly easy to maintain an absolutely current understanding of spending, even when there are multiple people spending in different locations, over the course of a day.
  • This program is supported beautifully. The company has created dozens of easily accessible tutorials which are complete and easy to learn from (if not riveting.)
  • The emphasis in the system  is on flexibility. There is little guilt associated with overspending in any given category, as long as you stay within the overall plan, which includes savings for long-, mid- and short-term goals. (The Ogre and I treat those savings categories as sacred.)
  • The program replaces any checkbook program with it’s functionality. The emphasis is on the budget portion, but you can track the activity of every spending account you have in one place.
  • Skeptical by nature, we may have hesitated if we’d had to pay the $60 cost of the program up front, but YNAB offers a fully functional, 34-day trial. After the first week, we knew we were going to pay, and pay gladly … so we budgeted for it, in YNAB, over two paychecks.

TOUR THE PROGRAM:


This is the short commercial-style video.


This is an 8 min. video that details the basic process, including some screen shots of the program itself.

LINKS:

main page: www.youneedabudget.com

a good overview of the support resources available to everyone: www.youneedabudget.com/support

and here’s an overview of the features, including some discussion of the tech that makes it work:  www.youneedabudget.com/features

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wrimoprog: 02/25/2014: 36 + 35 = 71/80


Resolutions Review: did you get control of your weight, fitness, money, and work issues? (Plus power poses.)

It’s Resolutions Review Week, here at The Paranormalist.

Why? More pointedly, why now, in late February? Because most of us made some resolutions just seven weeks ago, whether we admitted it aloud or not. Now, in the trough of this extreme and exhausting winter, we are at a challenge point. If we’ve been “good,” we’re feeling deprived and tired. If we’ve been “bad,” we have slipped back into the same old pre-resolution, habits, and we don’t care … because, hell, it’s hard enough to just get from one (frigid, ice-coated) day to the next, right?

(Apologies to my readers who live in reasonable climates … here in most of the United States, it’s been a rough winter.)

This week, I’m donning my Miss Mary Sunshine persona and sharing my thoughts about a few amazing life-hack tools I found. (You should appreciate that; this particular mask pinches and smells funny.) Still, some combination of desperation, determination, and good luck has allowed me to actually make real progress on a few of my 2014 resolutions, and (in the name of karma, or something) I have to share what is working.

3823701741_ea084edc2e

Photo by Don O’Brian
(linked to original)

The truth is, I didn’t make my resolutions on January first. Long-term readers know that our family is coming of a pretty brutal period (during which we experienced: cancer, eldercare issues, sudden unemployment that lasted 11 months, losing our house, moving into an apartment, etc.)  We’ve been trying to rebuild our lives for about two years. For most of that time, we’ve been consumed with just hanging on. Following Halloween of 2013, though, I had a bit of an emotional crash — the stress of the previous years finally caught up with me.

I stopped being able to write fiction.

After about a month and a half of unrelenting writer’s block, I decided I might as well be doing SOMETHING useful, so I set out on my quest to fix everything else, in the hopes that relieving some stress would ignite my creativity.

I didn’t find all the fantastic tools I wanted right away. There were some false starts. As weeks passed, however, I found some treasures and a few things started to come together.

Now I can tell you that in the last 3-4 months I’ve:

  • lost 10 pounds without really dieting
  • started working out regularly
  • taken control of our financial situation
  • saved over $1000.00 – in a real savings account
  • increased my hit traffic here at the blog substantially (On this one, I’m not quite sure WHY it’s happening, but I’ll take it.)

AND

  • I’ve started writing fiction again.

So, what has been working?

This intro to Resolution Week is already getting long, so I’ll start the series by sharing a quick link to one of the flakiest helpful techniques I stumbled on. I’m going to assume that you, like me, are a special kind of (paranormal) person — one who is simultaneously open minded and skeptical.

Power Posing:

wonder woman

(linked to Wonder Woman on IMDb)

I warn you, the idea seems silly. If you watch the whole 21 minute presentation, though, you might be persuaded to give it a try, based on the psychological and neurological science cited in the video.

Perhaps you’ve already seen Amy Cuddy’s viral TED Talk, Your body language shapes who you are. The idea is that our brains are hardwired to take cues from the body language of the people around us, and this capability is unconsciously applied to our own personal body language too. We come to believe things about ourselves based on the body language we adopt. Now, this is obviously a chicken and egg thing, but the question remains: if there is a feedback loop, can we really “fake it ’til we make it?”

I don’t yet power pose daily. In fact, I hardly ever do it at all. I just forget. Right after I watched the video, though, I tried to adopt a regular practice. I wrote in my personal journal:

A funny thing happened today. My husband likes it when I greet him enthusiastically when he gets home from work. You know, if I stop whatever I’m doing and go to give him a kiss before he can even get his coat off. I know it makes him happy. 

I thought I’d be funny today, and be waiting for him at his parking spot. I went down and was just sort of slumped against the wall when I remembered I hadn’t done any power poses yet. So I did. Just the Wonder Woman stance. 

Next thing I knew, I’d decided I might as well walk laps in the big underground garage of the apartment complex while I waited. It was probably my third lap before I started to wonder if the power posing energized or focused me in such a way that I started to do something good. Just a thought. 

My biggest take-away from this video was a realization that the position I adopt while writing matters. I happen to be one of those people who has always walked and stood confidently, but I tend to slump and fold in on myself and shrink when I’m seated. Now, when the words are feeling confined or cramped, I change the way I’m sitting and I stretch out a bit. It’s just one little thing, among other hacks that I’m using, but it helps.

power rangers

PS: A whole lot of yoga poses already tap into this idea, I think.

Photo links:
Warrior II
Yoga @ Midway Castles
Happy 50th Francine

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wrimoprog: 02/24/2014: 35 + 31 = 66/80