Stop hating on 2016

As 2016 draws to a close, the social media world is filled with hyperbolic despair and cleverly satirical, clicktavistic, hashtagified attacks on the 2016 calendar year. The masses are cursing 2016 and saying it’s ‘the worst’. People are mourning celebrities. They are anguishing over political events including the UK voting to Brexit and the US voting for Trump, although neither of these results have yet to come to fruition. Britain exiting the EU and Donald Trump being president are still joys ahead of us. Educators, even over the holiday period, have continued to stoush over ideological and practical differences. ‘Me at the beginning of 2016 vs. me at the end of 2016′ memes have been ricocheting around the interwebs, showing amusing-but-tongue-in-cheek-horrifying transformations of someone (usually a celebrity such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Hamill or Winona Ryder) going from a state of wellness and success, to one of ravaged dragged-through-the-apocalypse-backwards misery. People’s timelines appear simultaneously grief-stricken and hipster-with-the-program-cool. Facebook feeds are weighed down by outpourings of emotion and strings of emoji. I wonder if this desire to come together in the attack on a particular set of 365 days is a case of jumping on a hashtag bandwagon, feeling part of the global community, connecting with one’s tribe, or shouting into the void in a way that makes us feel heard, or at least like we have spoken.

But.

I’m going to question the hive-mind trend of publicly hating 2016. Of course, there has been plenty of anguish and many deeply troubling events (see the refugee crisis, the siege of Aleppo, terrorist attacks, shootings, bombings, deaths of many from publicly mourned celebrities to privately mourned individuals for whose families’ lives will never be the same). Yet, as Rebecca Onion points out, there have been plenty of other truly terrible years in human history that have seen suffering, sickness and war at an epic scale.

This year I’ve despaired at the direction of global politics, warfare, violence, hatred and education policy, but there is plenty (for an employed white person living without major health issues in a first world nation, parenting healthy children and supported by spouse, family, friends and nerd herd) worthy of thankfulness. The popular hashtagification of attacking the 2016 calendar year doesn’t resonate with me. I’m too privileged to hate 2016 with anything but white middle-class first-world-problem faux angst. My exhaustion, crankiness, hand-wringing at the state of the world and complaints may be real, but are they enough reason to curse the year that was, or shake my fist to the sky? I need to keep myself in perspective.

Besides, I’ve seen and experienced plenty of good this year. A well-credentialed, strong woman ran for US president. Science has done plenty of uber-cool stuff including making robotic limbs that talk to the brain, identifying a new gene responsible for ALS (as a result of ice bucket challenge donations), confirming the existence of gravitational waves, possibly discovering a ninth planet in our solar system, and developing a successful vaccine for Ebola. Less people are dying from multiple diseases (like measles, malaris and HIV) around the globe. World hunger reached its lowest point in 25 years. The hole in the ozone layer started healing itself. A bunch of endangered species—like tigers, pandas and manatees—are less endangered. A refugee Olympic team competed in the Rio Olympics.

In my own life, I completed my PhD and became a doctor, fulfilling a long-term goal. I wrote, published and presented (nationally and internationally) on work and research about which I am passionate. I did a rewarding day job: teaching high school students English, coaching teachers on their classroom practice and endeavouring to make performance processes in my school more meaningful. I supported and was supported by colleagues. I was appointed as a university adjunct and also to a new professional role for 2017. I saw my school community come together to support its members. I watched my own kids grow bigger, kinder and more independent, and reap the benefits of their local public school’s wonderful teachers and community. I got to spend time with my family and my friends. I drank French champagne and homemade kombucha. I got to curl my toes in beach sand regularly and clap my eyes on the ocean almost daily. I got to go on holiday. I’ve experienced years that I was happy to see the back of, but this year doesn’t stand out as one of them.

I do think that people have genuine reasons to hate a year, or want it to be over. I do think we should feel like we can express our angst in a variety of forums. I do think that parody, satire, and the cry of communal despair have their place in making sense of and critiquing the world. However, at the risk of sounding like Princess Unikitty smiling and screaming to ‘stay positive!’ as Cloud Cuckoo Land is destroyed, I aim to take a more constructive approach.

I aim to be a part of building positive counter-narratives to that which worries me about the world. Apart from the fact that I can’t sustain a state of permanent rage or hopelessness, I need to feel as though I have some agency and a voice. So I choose to look for the kindness, hope, activism and collaboration I’ve seen this year. I’ve seen colleagues, academics and those on social media fighting for that which they believe, for themselves, for others, for equity. I choose to use my voice to advocate, argue, and agitate, but also to offer up alternatives.

As we ease into 2017, come Sunday, let’s think about doing work that matters, being there for one another and sustaining ourselves. Let’s consider how we might make positive changes towards the kind of world we want to live in, and towards the kind of people we want to be. I think in 2017 we’ll increasingly need alternate narratives, hopefulness, and an eye on the goodness in the world.

me talking to 2016 haters (source: lego.com)

me talking to 2016 haters (Source: lego.com)

Stitching the shadows: Writing & social media

textile detail by Isobel Moore http://www.threadnoodle.co.uk/

textile detail by Isobel Moore http://www.threadnoodle.co.uk/

This blog post is part of a blogversation. It responds to two blogs, both of which came to my attention via my Twitter feed. This one on qualitative research methods by Naomi Barnes, and this one on tracing the social media interchange that followed, by Ian Guest. This is not the first time I have jumped into a blogversation unannounced and univited. The first time was when Helen Kara challenged Naomi Barnes to the #blimage challenge, after I had first challenged Helen to the same. The post I wrote, in response to Helen’s photograph of spider webs in her garden, echoes the themes of this post – the power and messiness of connectivity on social media. Another of Naomi’s posts had me thinking about diffraction.

The great thing about social media is that by engaging we situate ourselves within a public conversation. It’s when people jump in—to ask a question, make a comment, respectfully challenge, add their lived experience, share their perspective—that dialogue is enriched and we influence each other, across time, space and devices.

In Naomi’s recent post she articulates some ways of thinking that are close to my heart and my keyboard: blogging as inquiry and using metaphors as a method of sense-making. As many of you would know, I used Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as a literary metaphor through which I viewed and re-constructed my PhD data. Metaphors, as any reader of this blog will recognise, are one way that I make sense of the world. Metaphors also emerged from the stories of the participants of my PhD as they worked to make sense of their selves and worlds.

As une édu flâneuse I was taken with Naomi’s notion of the ‘concept flâneur’. The flâneur, or its feminine alternative the flâneuse, is the attentive observer, the attuned wanderer, a scholar of the world and a chameleonic surveyor of the crowd. The ‘concept flâneur’ reminds me of my own use of bricolage in my PhD that I describe here as rethinking well-worn traditions and stitching them back together in new form. But flânerie is about more than stitching together. It is about rapt observation and devoted contemplation, about deep understanding and applying scholarly thinking. The theoretical flâneur is the insider-outsider, at once looking in and immersed within.

The part of Naomi’s post that challenged me the most was when she stated that qualitative research has stagnated as “the author has become central in the writing. It becomes about writing, rather than the research and the need for change.” It led me to a Twitter exchange in which I explored my own uncertainty around the self in research and the author’s place in writing.

a Twitter exchange resulting from Naomi Barnes' blog post

a Twitter exchange resulting from Naomi Barnes’ blog post

In keeping with Naomi’s metaphor of the sutured-together monster body, I see these kinds of social media interactions as textile. I have written before about textiles as a metaphor for subversion and political activism. We stitch onto shared fabric, adding perspectives, colour, texture, visual elements to a work. Our hands and minds shape the work (our thinking work, our writing work, our collaborative dialogue work), as it shapes us. Needles prick and rub callouses into fingers. We cramp. We struggle with the material. We can be proud of our contribution, working together like a quilting circle on the collaborative work of seeking to understand and to theorise.

Ian, in his post that responds to Naomi’s post, points out the non-linear, messy ways that exchanges happen on Twitter, despite their appearance in the feed as linear threads. I’ve written before about the butterfly effects of Twitter conversations, their serendipitous, surprising and subtly influential moments. Their powerful, unforeseen circumstances.

Ian wonders about the silences and the blurred boundaries between people and thoughts. I agree that it is in the silences, the shadows, the fissures, the dark cracks, of exchanges and of our own thinking, that we are most in a state of becoming and therefore potential change. It’s in the dark and vulnerable spaces that we learn. Blogging can be a bit like this: an exposure, a laying bare, a stripping down.

Ian mentions in his post that he shared a blog post via email despite sitting right next to his colleague; they collaborated via technology despite being in the same room. This reflects the evolving relationship that Naomi and I share. We have begun a co-authorly relationship, via digital tools. Word to word, screen to screen, device to device. When we met in person for the first time recently, we didn’t discuss our writing projects specifically. We saved our writerly collaborations for online spaces: email, Google docs, Twitter. In our fledgling collaboration, for me the digital sphere feels simultaneously a bit sacred and a draft-notebook-type place for working out. We show our workings to each other via our thinking-out-loud digital musings.

The wonderful thing about blogging, tweeting, emailing, writing and reading as inquiry is the acceptance, and even celebration, that it is all unformed. There are moments of awkwardness, uncertainty, openness, weakness, resistance, emotion. It’s all laid bare on screen, and open to tangled-threaded multi-webbed interchanges that have us emerging from the knotted labyrinthine tangles as from a chrysalis, declaring “here I am” so that we can be challenged and changed again.

5 things I learned in 2016

rainbow shipping container sculpture, Fremantle (taken with iPhone & olloclip)

rainbow shipping container sculpture, Fremantle (taken with iPhone & olloclip)

2016 seems to have flown by at a rate of knots. I am so shredded right now that I feel like all of those ‘me at the beginning of 2016; me at the end of 2016’ memes floating around. But instead of a bleak image of end-of-year despair following this year of Brexit and Trump’s election, I’ve chosen to illustrate this blog post with the above sculpture. Part utilitarian shipping containers and part rainbow possibilities. The mundane made beautiful. Take from that what you will.

I figure that maybe if I take stock of what I’ve done and where I’m at, it might help me shed my 2016 skin and slip more freely into the new year. This year I submitted, was awarded and graduated from my PhD. I’ve since been appointed as an adjunct at the university where I did my doctorate, and have also been appointed to a cool new role at my school from 2017. I’ve had 3 peer-reviewed journal articles published, 3 book chapters accepted and presented 8 times at 6 conferences, including AERA in Washington DC. Emerald Publishing made a cartoon abstract of one of my papers. This is my 66th blog post for the édu flâneuse in 2016. I’ve also written for other sites including The Conversation and the Times HigherEd blog. I won an ACEL New Voice in Educational Research scholarship, and an international award for my PhD thesis. I worked a 0.8 FTE load: teaching English, coaching teachers and middle leaders, and refining professional growth and performance review processes at my school. I parented my two boys, who will both be in full time school next year. The youngest was in part time kindy this year, so I’ve had my last term-time weekday frolic with him.

This time last year I wrote about 5 things I learned in 2015. 2016 has thrown up some similar and some different learnings. Here are my top 5.

  1. Carve out a work routine.

I’ve had what has felt like a really busy year. To manage, I have instilled more structure into my work flow. This is about more than my Post-It note system. It means I try to find a regular ebb-and-flow routine, like blogging here every Friday, and carving out time for strategic project work at school, to make time for it among all the operational and relational stuff that fills my days. It also means figuring out where and how to make time for academic thinking, reading and writing.

This #1 point is totally unsexy and eye-rollingly boring, but it’s becoming more and more of a necessity if I’m to manage the work I have coming my way in 2017.

  1. Prioritise breaks for self-care.

One thing I’ve learned this year was something I already knew but seemed to forget: I need regular proper breaks. This year I didn’t carve out enough time for space, family and myself. Time. And. Spaaaaaaaace. A couple of weekenders does not a break make! Also, I have realised, conference travel does not count as a break. Between presenting, rushing around to sessions, meeting up with people and time zone changes, I often came back more exhausted and more behind than when I left. Doing good work that inspires and nourishes me is important. But taking a break from work to regenerate and re-centre is, too.

Watch out, 2017. I have plans for some spectacular holidays.

  1. Support and trust the individual.

In my work in leading professional learning, coaching and performance review processes, I have become more convinced than ever in the need to balance the individual and the organisation, personal vision and organisational purpose, support with accountability.

In particular, I remain despairing about the increasing media and policy focus on high-stakes standardised testing and performative measures for teachers. I’m also increasingly committed to supporting middle leaders in our schools, who are often forgotten between the popular rhetoric of and focus on the teacher and the principal.

  1. Be who you wanna be, yeah.

I continue to do identity work through my writing, my online interactions and my professional engagements. I struggled this year with fitting into doctorly robes after my degree was conferred, but am now enjoying the freedom that comes with being beyond-PhD. Being a post-doc adjunct whose paycheck comes from industry, not a university, means that I can start to play with ideas that are interesting, divergent and experimental. The joy of being an unpaid academic is that I’m not tethered to the world of academic measures and impact factors, so am able to flex my writer-scholar identity, to see what sorts of crazy-beautiful writing I might be able to work towards. In 2017, I hope to continue in my journey to becoming the scholar, writer, teacher and leader I want to be.

  1. Shift the narrative. Make a difference.

I’ve been exploring voice and activism in 2016, and wondering about what those things might look like. Can I be a part—via my work, conference presentations, online writing, scholarly writing, social media engagement—of shifting education narratives? Can I make a real difference, not just to the lives of students and staff at my school, but to the wider system, to people outside of my local bubble? I’m not sure, but I’m inspired by Tolkein’s character of Gandalf who says, “it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay.” As a pracademic I’m excited about the synergies between educational research and practice, and I’m hoping my own small, persistent nudges at the narratives of education might make a small but important difference.

Arguing on Education Twitter: BINGO

Today I had a draft blog post I was going to finish for publication today, but then I woke up to a tweet in which someone, with whom I’ve had no previous interaction, quoted a tweet of mine (a tweeted summary of an article to which I was sharing the link) and wrote above it the following:

God….. you really do have to laugh. Where do some get their PhDs??? # stupid

I’m still not sure of the reasoning for the tweeter’s ridiculing comment. Were they offended by or did they disagree with the content of the article I shared? It was a long article, at almost 3000 words. With what aspects of the article did they disagree? Did they read the article at all or did they just react to my teaser of its content? While they seemed to question my intelligence—with the #stupid hashtag, the triple question mark next to ‘Where do some people get their PhDs???’, and the suggestion that something about my tweet or my doctorate was laughable—the way in which they engaged with me did little to encourage debate or discussion, or to further either my or their understanding. Perhaps their intention was not to engage in dialogue, communicate their perspective to me, or interrogate my perspective.

This and some of the Twitter discussion that followed, got me thinking about the nature of some debates on edu Twitter, and of the social media tribalism Greg Thompson wrote about on his blog this week.

I’ve written before about the importance of graceful disagreement, such as in this post and in this one. I always learn from listening to the perspectives of those with alternate perspectives and counter arguments. On social media I (mostly) enjoy engaging in debates that help me to understand other viewpoints, see my own perspective from others’ points of view, and on occasion change my mind. If there is one thing my PhD taught me, it’s that there is much I don’t know or deeply understand, and that I have much to learn from others. In my leadership roles I look for ways to get honest feedback from all stakeholders, including and especially those who question, critique and resist. These are important voices to which we should listen.

But perhaps there are those who disagree, criticise or mock without the desire to talk further or understand more.

In anticipation of more enthusiastic debate and derision over the holiday period in the world of education Twitter, I’ve prepared this handy BINGO card for the festive season. It’s an attempt to see the lighter side of what can sometimes get heated as passionate educators fight for ideological corners. I may have thrown ‘Shakespearean insult’ in there as the odd ‘thine face is not worth sunburning’ or ‘thou cream faced loon’ might add interest to some debates.

You’re welcome.

My Edu Twitter BINGO: Watch your feed for these beauties

My Edu Twitter BINGO: Watch your feed for these beauties

Post script (11th December): I have begun to realise that there are aspects of EduTwitter arguing that I left off this BINGO card, like ‘false dichotomy, ‘Twitter poll’, ‘hyperbole’ and ‘subtweeting about someone’s lack of understanding or expertise’. I’d also like to clarify that my intention is not to judge any of these moves. They are used by people with a variety of profiles who argue on multiple sides of various debates. I think many of these moves transgress the debates themselves and reflect more of what brings education tweeters together, rather than what separates us. It’s also my attempt to reclaim my own experiences and to inject some fun into what can get intense or even nasty. I’ve especially enjoyed a few of the Shakespearean insults that have been thrown around since my post. Shakespeare really knew how to write a scathing and masterful take-down (although many of these would be classified as ad hominen or hyperbole in the context of Twitter debate).

I also love that someone made a GIF with my BINGO card.

Use at your leisure.

Use at your leisure.

ECR reflections on #AARE2016

welcome drinks at the Melbourne Cricket Ground

welcome drinks at the Melbourne Cricket Ground

As a neophyte researcher less than five years post doctoral completion, I get to claim the label of ‘early career researcher’ or ‘ECR’. I’ve just this week returned from the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) national conference, which provides excellent opportunities for an Australian early career researcher in the field of education: presenting, attending, connecting and thinking.

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Presenting

I was a last minute delegate at AARE this year, so didn’t present myself, but presenting last year was a highlight. ECRs can present alone (but papers are usually grouped with other thematically-like papers), with other ECRs, or with more experienced academics and professors. These presentations are important in helping to refine ideas and develop thinking, of both audience and presenter. While there are some ineffective discussants and unhelpful non-questions from audience members, discussion time after a presentation can be a great opportunity for the presenter to clarify and extend their thinking, thanks to questions, comments and provocations from the audience.

Presenting is also important for refining the precision and effectiveness of your science communication. How have you titled your presentation? How have you designed your slides? How have you distilled the essence of your paper down to a 20 minute presentation? The decision making required in order to present helps to refine ideas, clarify theory and fine-tune language.

Attending

The sessions at AARE are arranged around a number of Special Interest Groups including: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research; Arts Education and Practice; Assessment and Measurement; Educational Leadership; Gender, Sexualities and Cultural Studies; a number of school-subject specific SIGs; Politics and Policy; various theories and philosophies; Professional and Higher Education; Social Justice; methodologies; and Teacher Education and Research Innovation.

This year I was able to spread my time between sessions relevant to my own research and practice, and those that interested me outside of my normal bubble, such as a session on the intersections and interactions between academia and the media, and a particularly indulgent session on theory and writing, which buoyed and provoked me. That theory session, while not seeming directly relevant to much of my work and research, will influence my writing and the ways I consider research and practice.

One thing that struck me this year was what I learned as an ECR watching more experienced academics. Some of the sessions I attended involved very experienced academics presenting as-yet-unformed ideas. They were sharing and modelling the ways in which they explore a theorist they are reading for the first time, or work through a newborn idea. The vulnerability of these academics–willing not to present the workings-out of their practice and not just the result of layered years of thinking–was a great example to ECRs of embracing what we don’t know. Not only do we evolve as researchers over time, but we can embrace knowing what we don’t know and celebrate working through discomfort to interrogate those gaps.

Connecting

As I attended AARE last year in Fremantle, and I also presented at the AERA (the American Educational Research Association) conference this year, I began to see patterns of those who attend these conferences and those who are active in the research community and in particular SIGs. As I am active on Twitter, there were many additional familiar faces in the room. That’s one thing I love about Twitter – that it allows me to walk into a room in which I’ve barely met anyone, yet feel like I know a number of people.

The AARE conference is a great opportunity to connect with academics across a wide range of Australian and international universities, who approach education research in a variety of ways, through multiple different lenses. Many experienced or well-known academics are very open to meeting ECRs, and most are incredibly generous with their time and their advice. And the great thing about kicking on to dinner with a bunch of researchers is that it’s a wonderful opportunity to go full-nerd and explore all kinds of real and theoretical possibilities in a conversational environment. A Melbourne cocktail or two only adds to the conversation. I can see the potential for many a collaboration or co-authorship to be sparked at an AARE conference.

Additionally, editors from academic publishing firms like Routledge and Sage are at the conference venue, so it is a great opportunity to discuss your book idea.

Thinking

A conference like AARE provides a wonderful opportunity to break from the daily routine and think. While the program is busy, it allows delegates to listen to, cogitate on and talk about those arenas of research and education in which they wish to immerse themselves. The time and space for this kind of immersion and thinking is an excellent opportunity in itself.

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Having been conferred my PhD earlier this year, I am an ECR, but I am also a teacher and school leader. I’m a boundary spanner, a ‘pracademic’, traversing and often transgressing the boundaries between practice and theory, doing and research. The AARE conference allows me to indulge intellectually in the education sphere, and to engage in current thinking in educational research.

I live and breathe teaching and leading for most of the year, but here for a few days I get to engage with multiple lenses for considering and improving that work. What does current educational research have to say about areas of practice? How might I—as teachers, school leader and researcher—positively influence my own contexts, as well as broader narratives of education?

AARE provides the time, space and stimulation to help me do this. No doubt I’ll be back for the next round: Canberra 2017.

Cartoons to communicate science? #scicomm

With the knowledge of science we can solve resource limitations, cure diseases, and make society work happily–but only if people can figure out what in the world scientists are talking about and why they should care. ~ Randy Olson, Don’t be such a scientist

In 2015 the Oxford Dictionary word of the year was the ‘face with tears of joy’ emoji. This year I have seen PhD researchers communicate their theses via emoji on Twitter. Today Emerald Publishing and the Journal of Professional Capital and Community released the following cartoon abstract of my peer-reviewed paper ‘Rethinking professional learning for teachers and school leaders’. The paper itself, which has so far been downloaded over 4000 times, is open access, and I have also blogged about it.

What do you think of the notion of a cartoon or graphical abstract of a research paper? Is this a way forward for science communication? Can we use visual language to make research more accessible and more widely read? Could you or would you be open to designing a cartoon strip or graphic-novel-style summary of your research?

designed by Emerald and posted here on JPCC website: http://jpccjournal.com/teacher.htm

designed by Emerald and posted on the JPCC website

Anchoring, coping, organising: Post-It power

some of my Post-It moments

some of my Post-It moments

Great results, can be achieved with small forces. ~ Sun Tsu, The Art of War

Sometimes when it all seems too much, we need to distil all-the-things down to their essence. We need to simplify, to find a tangible anchor for the chaos of change or a reassuring system to help us bear the weight of pressure.

1940s Hungarian communist leader Mátyás Rákosi coined the term szalámitaktika or ‘salami tactics’. In order to gradually amass power, little bit by little bit, the idea is to attack a huge goal one tiny and deliberate slice at a time. When applied to big tasks or bold goals, szalámitaktika reflects the cliched saying ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’ It’s also reminiscent of Bill Murray’s title character in the 1991 film What About Bob? whose therapist prescribes him ‘baby steps’ to help him get through his day by focusing on literally putting one foot in front of the other. These simple approaches helped me to trudge my way through the work of a PhD. One step, one bite, one slice at a time.

At the moment educators in Australia are coming towards the end of our school year. Many of us dream that this is the time of year that we wind down, gently relaxing towards the summer holidays in a slow-motion dance of joyful teaching and leisurely planning for the next school year. Insert cocktail-drink-with-umbrella emoji.

The reality is that this time of year, for many of us, is manic, overwhelming and crushing in its pace and pressure. My way of dealing with the current mania is by tackling my to-do-lists with military precision and the salami-tactics baby-steps approach. My main arsenal in this operation? Trello? Spreadsheets? A wall of IdeaPaint scrawled with notes? No. It’s a stack of Post-Its.

The humble Post-It, an accidental invention born from a failed adhesive, has potent power. When Steve Jobs died in 2011, around the world people posted Post-It note messages on the windows of Apple Stores around the world. The Apple Store in Munich created a mural of Jobs’ face out of 4001 Post-Its. This month, these jewel-like beacons have been used in Subway Therapy in Manhattan, a post-US-election project incited by artist Matthew Chavez. Chavez set up a tunnel in the NYC Subway as a public art space onto which anyone could post their messages of support, optimism or hopelessness.

Post-Its can be used for collaboration. I’ve enjoyed getting staff or students to use them to draw together and reorganise ideas. Post-Its can be used for annotation, communication, display, feedback, personal notes and even for delight. Last year, a colleague was having a rough week. I took multi-coloured packets of Post-Its and covered her computer monitor with Post-It messages of ‘you can do it’ and ‘you’re awesome!’ and other such platitudes. It was silly enough to lift my colleague’s spirits. She left those notes there for some time.

But what I’m using Post-Its for now is to anchor me, organise me and help me cope with multiple work streams. I’ve used a Post-It note system for some time. I write a weekly or long-term to-do list on a Post-It, or more often a series of notes, and post them up in front of my desk. Sometimes I also have one or more desktop Post-Its going; these are my short term lists.

Importantly, as I complete tasks, I cross things off the Post-It list and triumphantly screw the Post-It up and throw it in the bin when the to-dos are done. The triumphant scrunching and tossing into the bin is an important ritualistic part of this method. It is in the closing of the fist, the flourish of the wrist and watching the note hit the trash that I feel a sense of accomplishment. This year I tried to move to a notepad system, but found that the notepad pages were too big; each could house an overwhelming list of to-dos that grew and grew and never seemed to be done. I could cross them off but I never felt that I was getting near the end of the list. I felt more despair and less success. I returned to Post-Its. They are small. They lend themselves to being do-able.

When I have a lot on the go at once, I adjust my Post-It system. Post-Its can be moved around and re-arranged. I can have different Post-Its for different categories of work. I can colour-code. I currently have a series of long-term and daily Post-Its on the go, but their manageable size means that I can feel a sense of accomplishment when I ‘finish’ one, or I can re-organise my thinking on a new note or series of notes.

My whole year has been about momentum, about putting one foot in front of the other, about being in motion. By deploying Post-It notes with military precision and ninja-like agility (or so I imagine), I am able to slice off one piece of salami, one bite of elephant, at a time. These unexceptional adhesive squares give me something tangible to hold onto in times of intense work. Their modest size allows me to celebrate small, daily successes, and I can breathe deeper and easier as I slowly watch my to-do lists dwindling, changing, or at least becoming more manageable.

It’s the little things.