Cartoon Gravity 6

Welcome to Cartoon Gravity No.6. Slow is steady, and steady is fast.

So here we go; as promised, an actual newsletter!

It's been a busy few weeks with the release of "Who Is Aldrich Kemp?", several writers rooms to attend, and screenplays to write; the ends of which seem to be forever receding over the horizon.

As we all know by now, I am perpetually looking for ways to best organise myself and manage my time. Over the past year I have had success with TickTick and with the evergreen Things, but I have come to resent the automation in those apps. On the surface, it seems really handy that the things you didn't get around to yesterday obligingly re-present themselves today. In practice, though, once you start letting things drop off any given day, your morning begins with an impossibly long list that you then waste time pruning and reassigning.

I realised, after months of this, that I wanted to be in charge of my days. I would prefer to wake up in the morning and decide what I wanted to do and what I was in the mood for, rather than having a list of tasks dictated to me.

Enter Trello. Or rather, welcome back Trello, because I had used it before and moved away from it.

For those not familiar, there's a brief (cheesy) guided tour video of Trello HERE. Trello always emphasises its use as a tool for teams, but it works really well for individuals too. What you basically get is a board with a bunch of bespoke lists onto which you place cards for individual tasks or projects. And it works like a Kanban board, so you can have basic "To Do", "Doing" and "Done" lists and move items between them.

My set-up is a little more complicated than that: I run an inbox list for quick capture on a phone or wherever I am; a projects list that shows the ongoing scripts etc that I should be working on (each one of these links to its own Trello board that contains workflows, notes, ideas etc); a to do list, which is made up of single tasks like emails I need to write etc; a Today list, which is self-explanatory, and then a Done list.

At the beginning of each day, the Today list is empty and the Projects and To Do Lists are ordered by due date, so anything urgent or time-specific makes itself known. I can then just drag into the day anything I HAVE to do and anything else I fancy doing, and that is my schedule for the day.

So why did I go away from Trello in the first place? Because I had fallen into a trap that I only really identified this week; automation. There is a lot of under-the-hood automation available in Trello - due dates can trigger cards to move, categories can do the same, moving a card can trigger a whole host of rules. It's actually very clever. And it's a nightmare.

When I came back to Trello and started setting up a new Daily board, I dove back into the automation without thinking. A lot had changed since I was last there and the automation had got even more wide-ranging and slick. I got stuck in; "when x happens to card y, make it do z". I constructed dozens and dozens of rules to make my project boards interact with my daily board, to make overdue cards flag themselves, and cards due today leap magically into the Today list. And on and on. And then some rules conflicted with other rules and I had to figure out the resolution of those conflicts... It took a few days, but finally it was all working seamlessly...

And I realised I had unwittingly created something that worked exactly like all the apps I was trying to escape from. I wasn't choosing my daily tasks, Trello was choosing them for me. I had no more control over what I did than I'd had before.

In a fit of peak, I immediately decided to write off all that time and ditch Trello again. And then I stopped myself and took a moment to think things through... And then I turned off 90% of the automation, deleted all those rules, took the thing into as analogue a space as I could. How do I make this work like index cards on a corkboard...? And suddenly I loved it again.

I think the lesson here is about deliberation. If we want control, we have to take it, not cede it in a different way.

Sure, my almost-entirely manual Trello board now requires me to enter due dates manually, and assign categories etc. But that forces me to think about the task I'm assigning, it gives me a moment to assess it. Do I want to do this? When do I want to do it? How do I want to do it? It slows me down but it gives me more control.

The US Navy Seals (I think) have a thing that they drill endlessly into new recruits: "Slow is steady, and steady is fast." I heard it years ago and I still think about it all the time; it's about the most useful thing I've ever learned. (Try it out next time you're frantically trying to put all your shit away in time to get off a train as it pulls into the station). Up until now, though, I had never thought to apply it to my to do list. But it turns out that if I take some extra time organising my day, it makes that day a little more effective.

You don't need Trello to do this, you can use anything that doesn't try to do the job for you.

And all of this correlates to the idea of Deep Work, written about extensively by Cal Newport (who, by the way, also uses Trello).

That same new-found attitude of steady deliberation has prompted my switch from digital to analogue photography, which I was going to write about today. But I think I'll leave it for next time, as I have wanged on endlessly about Trello and you all have a weekend to enjoy.

In the meantime, a few highlights from recent editions of the Morning Pages:

And I also spent some time on the site talking about The Atavist magazine, which is awesome for longreads. Mostly you need a subscription (at $25 per year, it's very reasonable, and as I understand it, they split the proceeds with their freelance writers), but you should be able to check out their story "The Voyagers" for free.

A few other Atavist pieces worth your attention (I think you can read three without subscribing):

  • The Shadow and The Ghost - How a religious sect in Brooklyn stole my grandmother’s childhood.
  • The Gilded Age - Gold mined in the jungles of Peru brought riches to three friends in Miami—but it also carried ruin.
  • The Girl in the Picture - A sketch artist and a grieving mother set out to solve a cold case. The more they dug, the more terrifying the truth became.
  • The Butcher of Havana - How a drifter from Milwaukee became the chief executioner of the Cuban revolution and a test case for U.S. civil rights.
  • The Snitch - In Scott Kimball, the FBI thought it had found a high-value informant who could help solve big cases. What it got instead was lies, betrayal, and murder.
  • Cat and Mouse - With dozens of felines turning up dead around London, a pair of pet detectives set out to prove it was the work of a serial killer.
  • The Lives of Others - Two women gave birth on the same day in a place called Come By Chance. They didn’t know each other, and never would. Half a century later, their children made a shocking discovery.
  • Searching for Mr. X - For eight years, a man without a memory lived among strangers at a hospital in Mississippi. But was recovering his identity the happy ending he was looking for?

That's it for now, thanks for indulging me. I hope the Trello stuff was useful to at least some of you. Next time, I promise to bore you to tears about film photography, but for now I have to get packing for my first trip abroad since all this Covid business began.

Enjoy the weekend.