Getting a Fresh Start on Action Items

Yesterday I pulled out a new notebook to use as a bullet journal. The previous one had lasted me from October of last year through, well, yesterday. While I didn’t execute the system perfectly – I often didn’t create new entries for each day or would take one of a few other shortcuts – the overall idea worked for me in a way that simply “writing down all the things I need to do” just didn’t.

I’ve taken a variety of approaches to tracking action items over the years. I used to use Producteev before I stopped liking that app after an update. I used Wunderlist for a while but ditched it after the news broke it would be sunset following the acquisition by Microsoft. And because life is messy there would be random thoughts thrown in Evernote, on Post-It Notes, in other notebooks stuffed in backpacks and elsewhere.

my blank (for now) bullet journal canvas

Every once in a while I would need to take a half hour and collect all these disparate notes and put them all in one place. Usually, that wasn’t one of the apps I was using but on a legal pad, where I would bring together everything I’d written down elsewhere. More often than not that process also unlocked thoughts about other action items I hadn’t previously written down but which needed to get down. So my memory was jogged as well, allowing ideas to not only stop being spread out among scraps of paper or bytes but also pulled from the labyrinth of my own mind.

What I like about the bullet journal method is that it prompts me to constantly reevaluate what I’m doing. It’s not just hanging there in an app, it’s something that’s always in front of me, something I’m constantly reminded of and having to weigh on the list of other items to take care of. More than once I’ve finally either eliminated or finished something because it no longer seemed important or because I was tired of seeing it on the damn list. I just wanted it gone, so I considered it as part of the larger picture and took the appropriate action.

So today I have a new notebook with a new list of action items. Some of those items are pulled over from yesterday’s list, but they are fresh for today. It’s a clean slate, a fresh set of priorities that are important for today. While I still use a couple of to do list apps for specific client projects, the journal helps me feel as if everything is captured in some manner. That’s refreshing and calming, particularly as a freelancer who’s juggling various personal and professional projects. Peace of mind is well worth it.

Remembering a Mission to Ord Mantell

Before the Star Wars Expanded Universe was really a thing – which to my reckoning means before the publication of Heir to the Empire in 1991 – there were only a few stories here and there that allowed fans like myself to enjoy the continued adventures of Han, Luke, Leia and the rest of the characters we’d grown to know and love.

One of my earliest exposures to stories beyond the movies was the audio drama Rebel Mission to Ord Mantell. Where have you heard that name before? Even if you’re not familiar with this story you may recognize it from a throwaway line in The Empire Strikes Back, when Han references an encounter with a bounty hunter there as the rationale behind why he needs to leave the Rebels and find a way to pay back Jabba the Hutt.

“Well, the bounty hunter we ran into on Ord Mantell changed my mind.” 

The story takes place before Empire as Han and Luke fly X-Wings as they scout a jungle planet, ostensibly as part of a mission to find a new rebel base after being chased from Yavin IV in the wake of the Death Star’s destruction. What they’re really trying to do is through the Empire off their scent, turning their direction to other jungle planets and not to ice planets such as Hoth. But that’s just the setup, the real mission begins later when the whole gang of our favorite characters embarks on a mission to Ord Mantell to link up with Phodrus, a rebel agent, as part of the plan to gain funds for the Alliance. There are…complications (aren’t there always with these three?) meaning Han winds up at the wrong end of a blaster and C-3PO winds up flying the Millennium Falcon.

Rebel Mission to Ord Mantell was written by Brian Daley, who also wrote the script for the Star Wars NPR radio drama, the Han Solo trilogy of books that included Han Solo at Stars End and much more. And the fact that it was released as an audio drama on cassette meant that, in 1983 and for years after that, you could take the story with you as long as you had enough batteries in your Walkman or had access to your boombox. In a world before ubiquitous and easily portable media, it was one of the best ways to take Star Wars with you while you were working in your grandparent’s backyard on a Saturday afternoon, not that I have any personal experience with that exact scenario.


It’s the best kind of expanded Star Wars story. It takes a small detail from what we already know and provides a backstory to flesh that out with more detail. Not only that, but it puts the characters in situations that are unfamiliar and unusual. As mentioned above, 3PO gets a chance to fly the Falcon. And Han flies an X-Wing, which my eight year old imagination had a field day visualizing, considering how ingrained the image of him behind the controls of the Falcon had become at that point.

What’s also notable is that this was a “smaller” scale story that didn’t directly involve the fight against the Empire. Sure, the whole purpose of the Rebellion is to resist the Empire’s iron-gloved rule and funding those operations is why Han, Leia and Luke need to get the money that’s been promised to them. But while a few Stormtroopers and Tie Fighters are referenced as being in pursuit at various times and we hear a couple of blaster shootouts, the traditional bad guys don’t really make a substantive appearance. This isn’t about the fight against Darth Vader and his forces, it’s about the everyday maintenance and management of that fight and the actions necessary to keep it moving forward.

The same year you were saving up to buy Rebel Mission to Ord Mantell at the local K-Mart or Crown Books, Return of the Jedi hit theaters. But with the exception of the “Droids” and “Ewoks” cartoons and the two Ewoks TV movies, additional Star Wars stories would be few and far between for the next 16 years. Until that Walkman finally gave up the ghost and you were tired of buying 12 D batteries for your boombox, though, you could enjoy the sound of Luke and company navigating the treacherous world of bounty hunters and information networks being pumped directly into your ears and your imagination. If you missed out you can listen to the whole 30 minute adventure at


Great story on user experience and how it influences the consumer.

IHOP has a new menu, and now customers are spending more. That’s not a coincidence: The new menu was carefully designed to encourage diners to order more. It’s like a Jedi mind trick that gets customers to order a side of bacon.

via How IHOP’s New Menu Design Gets Customers to Spend More – Businessweek.

We’re fat because our neighborhoods are designed poorly

This is fascinating:

When designers try to maximize the number of cul-de-sacs in an area, they create a dendritic—or treelike—system of roads that feeds all their traffic into a few main branches. The system makes just about every destination farther away because it eliminates the most direct routes between them. Connectivity counts: More intersections mean more walking, and more disconnected cul-de-sacs mean more driving. People who live in neighborhoods with latticeworklike streets actually drive 26 percent fewer miles than people in the cul-de-sac forest.

via Why cul-de-sacs are bad for your health: Happy City by Charles Montgomery..

Transmedia rules

Solid list of thoughts for people who may be considering some form of transmedia component to their next book, movie or whatever. Go read the whole thing:

Transmedia storytelling affords even modest productions the ability to be extended to touch points that would not ordinarily be available to the filmmakers. If you have integrity as a storytelling, you\’re going to want to reach as many people as possible. Transmedia content, when done well, maintains the essence of that message.

via The 3 Rules of Transmedia Storytelling from Transmedia Guru Jeff Gomez | Filmmakers, Film Industry, Film Festivals, Awards & Movie Reviews | Indiewire.

All those little symbols mean something. Huh.

This is fascinating.

This handy infographic, Origins of Common UI Symbols, was put together by Sofya Yampolsky, Warm Gun, and 500 Startups to explain just that. And even self-professed tech geeks will learn something.

via The Esoteric Symbols Behind User Interfaces, Explained | Co.Design | business + design.


Innovation and disruption are two very different things

A recent Fast Company story makes the casethat big companies are essentially incapable of churning out new, hugely innovative products.

Questioning the status quo, cutting costs, eliminating hassles, bypassing middle-men, and removing fees certainly go a long way. But being naïve, clueless or wildly–and perhaps inappropriately–ambitious also helps.

I know the point he’s trying to make but, while he gives some lip-service to the idea, I’m not convinced he actually differentiates in his own mind between innovation and industry or business model disruption. The former can happen anywhere and often does, in fact, happen within large companies where someone figures out how to do something better or in a radically different way. The latter does, admittedly, rarely happen within companies like that since such disruption tends to put those businesses *out* of business.

The war between the states

When I was in junior high or so – 20+ years ago – I remember the thinking being prevalent that the Civil War wasn’t so much about slavery but about state’s rights. It’s interesting, then, that the pendulum is starting to come back around and people are pointing out that yes, state’s rights were the core issue but in practice it was about a state’s rights to hold slaves.

Along these same lines, I’ve been greatly enjoying the Disunion posts from the New York Times that follow the events leading to the war on a day by day basis, meaning we’re watching the country move to war in more or less real time as we approach the 150th anniversary of the beginning of hostilities.

If I had one wish this Christmas season…