Podcast interview: Productivity Alchemy

If you like my productivity stuff, I did a podcast interview that went live today (May 16, 2019) with Kevin Sonney of Productivity Alchemy.

If you’ve been reading here for a while you know most of what I’ve said (it’s in my productivity category…) but I also talk about my current creative writing project as Celia Lake (self-publishing romances set in the 1920s with magic) and some of the tools I use at work.

I’m planning to make a few more posts here over the next couple of weeks with some additional thoughts and resources, so keep an eye out!

And if there’s stuff you’d like me to talk about, I’m glad to consider it (I love geeking out about organisational stuff). Just drop me a note through the contact form or whatever other method works for you.

Many internets

I’ve been thinking recently about how we often think we’re having the same experiences – online, in research, in other ways we learn.

There are many internets out there. We may be using the same tools, but we can use them in such phenomenally different ways.

A few examples:

Apple uses her account as a public or semi-public place to share things she cares about (or finds useful or beautiful or intriguing). She has a wideranging list of people who can see and comment on her posts, but she knows many of them casually (through friends of friends, former places she’s worked, etc.), and many of them don’t know (at least without checking her info) what she does for a living or even where she lives.

Borage uses theirs only to keep in touch with a couple of trusted friends. They might use privacy tools so only those people can see their content. Or they may just use a tool that’s only by invitation. (Such as a Slack or Discord channel that’s set up that way.)

Carrot may have an account he uses to access specific groups (like for a class or community online) or manage invitations, but he never posts anything to his personal feed at all.

Dandelion wants a really social experience – tagging friends to let them know there’s a post that will interest them, or share photos. It’s really important for them to stay connected to people from all the different parts of their life, where they grew up, their school, their past jobs. Sure, some of those people have very different opinions sometimes, but that’s good for learning, right?

Elder‘s known Dandelion since high school, more than a decade now, and she loves seeing what Dandelion is up to (the stories and photos are great). But she’s had problems with a stalker, and worries about them finding her through other people’s posts. She definitely doesn’t want to be tagged.

Fern struggles with being online a lot. He knows that he’ll get lost in a maze of links, and not get much done on the projects he cares about. He worries about missing out, and when he checks in on the site (and his friends) he’s convinced he’s not seeing everything his friends do, that they’re commenting on. Some of that doesn’t matter, but what about the important parts?

Gardenia only accesses the site from her mobile device. Most of it works fine, but she finds it hard to navigate older conversations, or pick up in the middle of something that’s been going on for a while. (She misses the days of email lists, when you knew where you left off.)

Heath knows Dandelion from their first job together. Dandelion’s posts are fine, but the comments are a different story – there can be aggressive, bigotted, dismissive comments that are about things Heath cares about a lot. Some of them are about groups Heath is a part of (and that Elder knows about). Others are about things Heath hasn’t shared with Elder.

Heath worries about pulling back from Dandelion will mean losing contact with other people they know through the same places as Dandelion. But every time Heath opens their feed in that platform, they never know what might hit them in the face.

And all of these people might actually be using the same platform or tool – just in very different ways.

What does this mean?

Well, it means that the tools and features that work for one person may not matter to someone else. Sometimes it’s just that a feature doesn’t do much for someone’s use – some people don’t post a lot of photos, but the fact others can post them isn’t a big bother. Some features are more complicated, though.

If you can tag people in a photo, what happens if a person doesn’t want to be tagged? Sometimes that’s not just because of a stalking situation. It can be because they have a public-facing job (more than one public school teacher has been fired from a job for a photo at a party where there is entirely legal adult drinking.)

There may be issues with privacy. People with chronic health issues may not want their employers (current or potential future ones) to find that information online. People who are part of non-visible minority communities (like religion or interests) may not want to make some things available where others who know them from other parts of their life (again, work…) can find it. Even just connecting to people they know through those interests and communities can make the interest a lot more obvious. (This is called social mapping.)

And sometimes it’s just exhausting. A diverse reading community is great in some ways, but without methods (both technical and social) for dealing with unacceptable posts, some people are going to end up feeling whacked on the head by awful things on a regular basis.


A lot of how we use a particular tool is influenced by the design. Some social media spaces are designed to favour lots of short quick comments, but are very hard to navigate to find longer thoughtful commentary. (And often, you have to know it’s there before you have a chance of finding it.)

Facebook, for example, is notorious for favouring posts with a lot of interaction (which means longer posts that fewer people respond to drop out of sight faster), and even for posts with a lot of interaction, their algorithms decide what you get shown.

Compare that with a site like Dreamwidth (or using an RSS reader) where you get all the posts you have said you want to read that you have permission to read, in reverse chronological order unless someone has made deliberate decisions otherwise.


Then there’s the other thing, which is cultural. People on the internet develop habits and senses of etiquette that often derive from the previous tools they’ve been using, mixed with the spaces they’re in, and what makes sense for those spaces. People or communities with a different background may find a lot of approaches baffling for other communities.

Let’s start with an easy one. Once up on a time, most email clients were designed so that you would quote the message you’d gotten, and then reply to each section you had a comment about (it might be a line, it might be a paragraph, occasionally more.) Then Microsoft Outlook and a few other software tools changed to place the cursor at the top of the reply (before any of the quoted text) and it trained multiple generations of people new to email that you replied by putting the new stuff at the top of the message.

(This produces very long chains of emails, where the old version just included the stuff that was directly relevant, so it was also a response to increasing bandwidth and download speeds. Text is very small, comparatively, but really long email chains took a long time back in the dawn of dialup.)

Different groups using the same social media tools develop their own customs. In some places, tagging is absolute – on Tumblr it might be a way to express your own commentary on the post without cluttering up the post. On Facebook it might be a way to include people in the conversation who are relevant.

But people from other Internet spaces (whose main use has been in other spaces on the same platform) might feel that adding long strings of tags is baffling and confusing, or that tagging people is inviting them to join the conversation, and maybe they want to talk about a situation without necessarily engaging directly with that person.

(There are obviously complexities to talking about people where they aren’t aware of it, but that’s an etiquette and communication issue as well as an internet culture one. And there are plenty of legitimate situations where one might want to talk about an issue to sort out pieces of it. though ideally not in public!)

Different social communities also have different approaches to things like anon memes, snarky commentary, newbies to the community space, and how to communicate about people who have been difficult (or abusive) members of the community in the past.

None of these are simple to sort out – and often, the different uses can be rather opaque to people not in those particular communities or familiar with at least some of the history. That doesn’t mean those experiences aren’t real. It does mean that if you’re entering a different topic space, or community, you probably want to take some time to figure out how to work.

Back in the days when forums and email lists abounded, I used to recommend reading for two weeks (or reading back over two weeks of posts) before posting much. It wouldn’t avoid every problem, but two weeks is often enough to get a sense of active participants, the topics that come up all the time, and usually how the community deals with an annoying or challenging conversation or two.

On modern social media, that can be a lot harder to do (see also sites and platforms that make it hard to even figure out what the last two weeks of posts were or what’s new.)

Whatever method you choose, simply remembering that there are many internets, and they overlap and interconnect in complex ways will stand you in excellent stead. If something seems a bit weird, take a step back, and ask if there might be a reason you’re not aware of. (And then ask yourself what you want to do with that.)


A hidden bookcase opens out, revealing a room behind. The bookshelves are full of leather-bound books.The question of getting rid of books is a very delicate one.

If you’ve been on certain parts of the Internet recently, you may have noticed backlash against Marie Kondo. (People argue she said you should get rid of all your books. She’s said she keeps about 30, but other numbers are totally fine, as long as they’re evoking joy for you.)

Now, I just moved apartments. Moving books is not a joy, even if the books themselves are. Even if you have movers. My books are now all on shelves again, and in the process I found four boxes full of books that really could find other homes now. So it’s time for me to talk again about keeping books, not keeping books, and some ways to think about that might be helpful.

Some things about me

Since I graduated from college in 1998 and moved into my first apartment, I have moved 8 times. Three of those moves have been long distance (Massachusetts to Minnesota, Minnesota to Maine, Maine to Massachusetts). The others have been within the same town or metro region.

I also like books. I like the physical objects. I like the information that’s in them. I have some tastes in reading (and in research) that aren’t easily supported by almost any libraries.

And I am still pretty much at ‘do I need this exact physical book’ these days. Because moving books is a pain.

That means that any book I hang on to for an extended period has to earn its keep somehow.

Know thyself

(said the oracle at Delphi, and many other people since.)

That means the self you are now (or at least recently, the last year or three). Not the self you were when you were five. Or the self you were ten years ago. Or the self you might in ten years. A little bit of reflection can help you figure out what books are really bringing you joy.

Here’s what I know about myself right now.

I’m living in a new space. The old place, I spent 95% of my time in the bedroom. My computer is still in my bedroom, but my living room is a lovely size and gets gorgeous light (even in a rather barren sort of January where it’s all leaves and bare branches). It’s a space I’d like to spend more time in regularly, not just when I have friends over. (And in the summer, it’s got an air conditioner.)

Most of my general reading is now on ebook. (Not only are they easy to move, but I can carry 800 books plus a bunch of fanfic in my pocket. As someone who reads fast, used to have to pack suitcases for trips that were half books and half clothes to have anywhere near enough to read, and who loves never having to do the “Will I run out of book while out of the house? What should I bring with me, no that’s a pain to carry, what else?” maths anymore, ebooks are great.

But I still get certain subsets of topics in print.

In the old apartment, I had a bathtub (the new place only has a shower. It is hard to read in the shower. The books get soaked.) So the stack of books I kept for purposes of reading in the bathtub is no longer necessary. And some copies really were falling to pieces and can now be replaced by ebooks when I want to read them again.

What books do I want in print?

Your list will be different from my list. I want to be really clear about that up front. Keep as many books as are meaningful or make you happy.

That said, here’s how I make the decisions currently.

1) Is this a book I want to share with other people?

I get most of my Pagan books in print, because I want to be able to pull them out and share with people (students of witchcraft and coven or group members). That’s hard to do with an ebook. Many of these are not necessarily books I read back to front, but they’re books I want to keep for reference for one reason or another.

2) Is this a book that makes more sense in print?

Cookbooks and herbalism books are much better in print, for me – they’re easier to browse and rummage through for the specific information I want. I’ve also got a few old collect books (mostly my Arthurian Legends materials) that would be expensive to replace in other formats, and where the linear nature of the print book is actually really appealing to me.

3) Sentimental value

I have a place on my shelves for books that are sentimental choices for me. A selection of my father’s books (he wrote over 30), a few particularly favourite editions of children’s books. But this move, I finally got rid of many of the British School stories I grew up on, keeping just a representative sampling of a few of my particular favourites.

4) Can I get this from other sources?

One of the challenges for my Pagan materials is that while many of them are available through various sources (currently in print or used), most of the ones I care about aren’t available through the library system.

This is because of the way libraries order books, and which review sources they mostly rely on, and the fact almost no public library is going to have really extensive resources in a specialised topic (just like they probably don’t have every book ever about really specialised fiber arts skills.)

Because the answer to ‘can I get this if I need it’ is trickier, that’s the other reason I’m more inclined to keep the Pagan materials..

How do these items relate?

My last question comes back to something we talked about repeatedly in one of my Master’s of Library and information Science classes, the one on collection development. Roughly speaking, collection development (aka collection management) is about how you decide what books you add to the collection, what books you replace in the collection (if/when they get worn out or go missing) and what books you eventually remove from the collection.

(When I am being flip, I sometimes refer to it as “buying books with other people’s money” which is also true, but most collections are not just books!)

The thing that stuck with me, however, was our professor talking about the idea of books being in relationship to each other as what makes the collection. Even in libraries with similar demographics and collections, different libraries will develop different feels based on hundreds or thousands of choices over time. That’s a fascinating and wonderful thing when it works well.

A public library has a responsibility to recognise and offer materials for the entire public they serve, and school and academic libraries need to first and foremost support the course-related projects and the needs of their students related to learning. (And special libraries – that is, libriares that aren’t one of those three – need to support the needs of their users for the reason the library exists.)

But when we’re talking about our personal libraries, we can and should make choices that make those libraries ours. Not the books we ought to read because they got good reviews, or the books we meant to read five years ago, or the book that a well-meaning relative who remembered we like books but not which books gave us.

Make your collection the books that make you light up and grin, or sit down on the floor and browse. The ones that make you want to engage with them in some way, whether that’s curling up with them or ranting about them to your best friend. And that’s where Marie Kondo’s ‘spark joy’ comes in. Keep the books you care about, whatever that means to you. If you don’t have a connection to it you want to keep, then think about finding it a new home.

How else does this apply?

I am very close to dumping all my saved Instapaper bookmarks and Pinboard bookmarks into an export file, and starting fresh, on the theory that if I really need something I can rummage in the export file. Very very close. Also clearing out and archiving some of my ebooks.

I’ve seen people talk about KonMaring their open tabs. (Do they really want to read the thing that’s been sitting there for a week? Or is it open because they feel they ought to read it?

Sometimes having many tabs open is legitimate. Sometimes it’s about being stalled on doing anything with any of them. That’s not a great feeling for most of us, right? So maybe we can try having less of that feeling. Does that feel better?

I think being openminded about it, and taking time to look at what works for you now – not the you of five years ago, or the you five years in the future.

Obviously, some things will have long-term consequences, but in other cases, it can help to realise we don’t need to hold onto the physical book to remember it fondly, or take away the pieces that were useful.

Ongoing learning

I’m writing this just after New Year’s, which is a time when a lot of people start to think about improving themselves or learning something new (along with wanting to pick up new habits). So for today, I want to talk about how I structure ongoing learning, and some things that help.

Skills and tools : Glasses and pen resting on sheets of printed music

Professional development

A lot of my approach to this is shaped by my professional education. I’m a librarian, and I’ve worked both in K-12 schools and in a university (as well as my current place). In both those environments (as well as librarianship in general), it’s expected that part of your job is to continue learning – it’s often an expected part of the discussion at your annual reviews!

There are different ways to do this. They can include:

  • Membership in professional organizations.
  • Attending conferences, workshops, or other educational events (often organised by those professional organizations).
  • Reading blogs or other informal writing from others in the field.
  • Reading formal articles or research from others in the field.
  • Finding spaces to talk to others in the field, both formally and informally. (Sometimes at conferences, sometimes online.)

As a librarian, I currently have a membership in the appropriate professional organisation (at my current job, that’s the Special Libraries Association). I read the email digests as they come in, and an email list for people in an associated field. (Historical information in that field is relevant to me, and sometime I can sometimes help with, but 90% of the content isn’t relevant to what I do.)

I hang out in an internet space with other librarians (from all kinds of libraries) and often pick up really cool resources there. I keep an eye out for useful articles (both formal and informal) and I read a bunch of librarian blogs (and newsletters.)

I don’t go to as many conferences as I used to, because they’re less relevant for my current job but I do get to see people in our specific (very specific) field occasionally and I’ve collaborated on some projects in the past.

Witchy things

So how does that transfer into my witchy life? Right now, I…

Take in a variety of sources

Specifically blogs and newsletters (and listen to a few podcasts) by people with a variety of backgrounds and interests.

One part of this is exploring my own interests – for example, right now, I’m reading a range of astrology blogs because one of the things I’m focusing on learning is astrology, and it’s useful to see how different people approach the same basic information.

But I also make a point of including a range of resources for other reasons – I want to be aware of current issues, conversations, and general trends in the community around me. I don’t think that’s essential for a solitary practitioner, but I think some sense of broader awareness is important for anyone who’s teaching or presenting material to a larger audience. (And I do both: I have current students working toward possible initiation and I write for Seeking, as well as my own forum posts.)

Read books.

This is, of course, a classic option – and these days there are more and more books about specific topics within Paganism, witchcraft, magic, and ritual coming out every day. (My book budget – both time and money -can’t keep up with all the things I want to read!)

Think about what you’ve got time for in your life

And how you learn best. Some topics you really do need to have material in front of you. (For example, it’s hard to keep an entire astrology chart in your head. Some parts of astrology lend themselves to podcasts, but others, like chart interpretation, you probably want a book or online site.) When do you have time for learning? If you have young kids at home, podcasts or videos may be hard to get time for – but if you’ve got a long commute, a podcast might be just the thing.

Take advantage of online workshops and courses.

Of course, you have to find ones that have worthwhile material, but they’re out there. Ask around among people you know, or look for detailed reviews or comments. A lot of the more reputable options will give you some good ways to understand the material and how they teach (such as a sample intro lesson, an active blog with a fair bit of content, and/or detailed descriptions and examples of what’s in the course material.)

Courses can run from a week or so, to a month or six weeks, to a year. Obviously, longer courses tend to cost more. (Shorter courses or online workshops can be a good way to check out a teacher you’re interested in taking something longer from, though! And a lot of reputable teachers will make it easy for you to figure out if there’s a decent fit.)

My usual plan with courses (or anything more than the cost of a regular book) is to think carefully in advance about what I’m hoping to get out of it. What is being offered? How does that fit in with my goals? That’s even more true if there’s a significant commitment of time and/or money.

Build networks of people with related interests.

You don’t have to share all the same interests – just have some overlap. If you’re looking for a new resource, or checking out a possible course, or trying to figure out what material would help with a particular question, that network can be really powerful and helpful. It doesn’t need to be a big thing. Finding community spaces (online or offline, as works for you), sharing a little bit about yourself that’s relevant to that place, and offering other people ideas all help a lot.

Use the other tools at your disposal.

If your physical world options aren’t getting you traction, try asking your divination tools, focusing on what you need in meditation, or doing a ritual around finding the next step.

I have a meditation I do and have shared with people in person that is about visiting the Great Library on the astral, and wandering around looking for sources that will help with a particular need. It’s been really good for breaking through a logjam in research or in figuring out what my next step in a project is.

Other options

These are just a few of the possibilities. Don’t feel you need to try all of them – pick one or two to explore, or make a commitment to spending a little more time with the ones that you’re already enjoying. Even a little more time every week will add up over the course of the year.