Friday 18 January 2013

#FridayFlash - Polaroids

Angela hated having her photo taken. Will dated her for sixteen months, and didn't capture a single image. He'd tried taken them when she slept, and even then she'd turn at the last moment, leaving only a blurred shadow on the camera. Even her online profile photo was a caricature she'd drawn herself on rainy Tuesday afternoon.

Will stared out of the window, watching the last of the mourners depart, and for the first time since he'd met her, he found himself wishing he had just one photograph.

A pile of mementos lay on the table, assembled by her friends and family to celebrate the life cut short by a drug-encrusted driver. Will glanced at the assorted books and knick knacks, unsure what to do with them. He appreciated the gesture, but they'd hardly bring Angela back.

Agent Smith clambered up onto the table; the fuzzy Calico sent the pile of books sliding onto the floor in his quest to stick his head into Will's mug. Will grabbed the cat and pulled him onto his lap. Agent Smith looked up at him, that same questing expression on his face.

"Sorry, old man, she's not coming back. Just you and me now."

He scratched the cat's head. Agent Smith stood up on Will's chest and rubbed his head against Will's chin.

"I just wish I had one photo, you know? It sounds stupid...but I'm scared I'll forget what she looks like. Sorry...looked like."

Agent Smith mewed his support. He leapt down from Will's lap and skidded across the pile of fallen books. The largest, a huge tome compiled by Angela's wizened old aunt, fell open. Its heavy cover thudded against the carpet. A Polaroid flapped loose, and skated towards Will. He picked it up, and held it to the waning light.

A young woman filled the centre of the frame, one hand held up to block the camera. The palm covered her face but it was Angela - it had to be. Will recognised her top, and the choppy brown hairstyle. Her aunt must have sneaked in a photo while rampaging around a family event with that dratted Polaroid camera of hers.

Will smiled, and tears pricked his eyes. He still couldn't see her face, but he had a photo. He couldn't forget her now.

A flicker of movement caught his eye. He peered more closely at the photo, watching as the hand covering the face lowered out of the shot. Angela stared out at him. Will yelped and dropped the photo. Agent Smith ambled across the floor and sniffed it. Angela waved, and the cat yowled, streaking across the room to hide behind the sofa.

Will picked up the photo by its corners, careful not to touch the window containing Angela. She didn't return his smile - an unfamiliar scowl adorned her face.

"Hiya, love." Will felt stupid talking to a photo, but he also felt like he needed to say something.

Angela crossed her arms over her chest and the scowl deepened.

"Sorry, love, I don't know what to do."

Angela moved towards him, a glare in her eyes and a snarl on her lips, and Will stifled the urge to flinch. She reached the flimsy barrier of the Polaroid and hammered her fists against an invisible shield. The photo flapped from Will's fingers, swinging back and forth from the weight of her fury.

Will slipped the Polaroid back into the book and slammed it shut. The heavy cover didn't move, and Will risked a sigh of relief. He pushed the book under the sofa and left the room, followed by Agent Smith. He led the cat into the kitchen, and leaned back against the counter. The remains of the buffet lay on foil platters, covered in clingfilm, and Will crumpled into a heap in front of the washing machine.

He tried to think of his Angela as he remembered her, laughing at old movies and skipping through fresh snow. When he closed his eyes, all he could see was Angela's glare. He'd never seen that side of Angela before, possessed by anger, but he couldn't shake an old feeling, one he'd often wondered about whenever Angela refused to have her photo taken.

After all, the camera never lied.

Monday 14 January 2013

Improving productivity

I'm quite a fan of the Brain Pickings blog, and last week they featured this animated video about the science of productivity, from AsapSCIENCE.

The main points raised by the video are;
  • Willpower can be depleted, so simply convincing yourself to 'try harder' won't work;

  • Starting a project is the biggest barrier to actually being productive;

  • Successful people don't work more, they work better, putting in periods of intense work of around 90 minutes followed by breaks of 15-20 minutes to see more work done;

  • Habit and discipline are key to establishing a productive routine;

  • Deadlines focus the mind;

  • A list of progress should be made so you can evaluate what you've actually done, helping you avoid mindless tasks;

  • Avoid multi-tasking as you end up doing less; and

  • Split big tasks into smaller tasks to make them more manageable.
Given I have to divide my time between PhD work, study for a teacher training qualification, preparatory work I need for teaching, writing, and having a life, I thought I might share my top three tips for being productive.

1) Make lists
I make two types of lists. The first is the things I need to do - I split this list into two columns, listing what needs to be done against when I'm going to do it, and I list things according to when they need to be done (naturally the things due for Tuesday will be higher up the list than those due on Thursday). I can cross things off as I've done them which gives me a natural sense of achievement as I end up with more crossed out tasks than uncrossed out tasks.

2) Set deadlines
If something doesn't actually have a deadline, I find that I'll procrastinate and find all sorts of reasons not to work on I set myself a deadline to ensure that I will. I also do more work the less time I have in which to do it because I'm very much aware of the clock ticking. Even self-imposed deadlines get me working faster.

3) Take breaks
I have the attention span of a particularly hyperactive spaniel so I find my attention wanders very easily, no matter how engrossing the task at hand may be. The only way for me to get through it is to promise myself a break. Rather than making myself sit and focus on something for several hours, I work for an hour or so, take a break, then come back to whatever I was doing. Even when I'm writing something like a blog post, there are usually mini breaks, during which I check Twitter or read other blogs. It breaks up my work and gives me something to come back to.

What about you? What do you do to remain productive?