Monday, December 24, 2012

Alternative Wrapping Paper

I came home Saturday with a suitcase full of presents and the knowledge that I didn't want to use any traditional wrapping paper this year.  My plan was just to use the comics section of the newspaper.

Instead I wound up getting a little bit crafty.  Last week, Dogs or Dollars mentioned a tutorial about making your own bows.  So I dragged out a bunch of old magazine pages I had saved from grade school (I'm a sort-of-recovering pack rat...) and got to work.

I slightly changed the tutorial because of the size of my magazine pages.  I used 3 10.75" strips, 3 9.75" strips, and 2 8.5" strips, all 0.75" wide, plus one 3.5"x1" strip.  And I put the bows together with a glue stick, instead of double-stick tape.  I think if I do this again, I either need to use more glue or a different kind of glue, since a lot of them fell apart later...

I was only able to wrap a few presents in comics pages - it might have worked better if I had told anyone at home about this a few weeks ago.  Instead I just had two Sunday funnies and one weekday comics page.  So I also wrapped presents in brown paper bags and put one in a box.

Looking through those old magazine pages, I found a bunch of animal pictures,  so I decided my young male cousins didn't need bows.  The Star Wars-obsessed 10-year-old got everyone's favorite 'droids :)

All in all, I'm pleased. Tape is still involved in the wrapping, so it's not totally plastic free, but basically everything else involved was destined for the recycling bin.  The gift tags were made from a piece of pastel paper I've also had laying around since high school.  I've already given some of the comics+magazine bow presents, and they didn't get many comments, so I guess that means no one thought they were weird?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Reusing Yogurt Containers

Thus far, buying yogurt has proved to be one of the big sticking points in reducing waste.  I haven't yet found yogurt in a reusable container, and NYC doesn't recycle any plastic besides bottles.* 

I started eating yogurt a lot last year - who knew I could really love it when you get rid of all that fake sugar and flavoring? Anyway.  Nothing beats yogurt and granola for a quick, simple breakfast. 

I buy a big container from a dairy at the Greenmarket every week or two.  They started to stack up on my shelf because I figured I would find a place that would take them, i.e. the Gimme 5 program.  That hasn't happened, although I will take some home at Christmas (my parents' county recycles all numbers).

In the meantime, though, I've been using them as bulk-buy containers.  They're lightweight and stack together, which means they're easy to carry, and when I get home I just wash them. I've even used them to store some foods that don't spoil fast and that I eat fairly quickly, like oats, brown rice, and pasta.  I sharpie the food, cost, and tare onto the lid to make life easier on the volunteers at 4th Street Food CoOp


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Learning to love a To-Do list

I've tried to make to-do lists for myself in the past, with very little success in actually using them.  This semester, though, I've come to appreciate a to-do list that has helped me stay on-task and motivated in my research.

Basically, the list is all of my tasks for the next week, broken down into little steps.  Oftentimes, I find that just thinking about all the things I need to get done for the next week is overwhelming and I don't know where to begin.  Just the act of writing everything down forces me to think about each task, rather than feeling like the work is insurmountable.  Breaking larger tasks down into little steps also helps me be more productive when I have short blocks of time.  I don't waste half that time wondering what I should be doing.

This method is mostly inspired by an old post at 43 Folders that I read in high school.  The post describes a procrastination hack called (10+2)*5 that's pretty similar to the currently popular pomodoro technique.  I used to use it to get through my history readings in high school.  This time, I borrowed the concept of breaking down my to-do list.

Here's how I make my list.  I meet with my advisor once per week (typically).  This results in a messy sheet of notes and tasks for the next week.  That afternoon or the next morning, I go over that paper and pick out each task for the next week.  I pull out all the different aspects of the task, and write them down separately.  I break them down further from there if I need to.

For example, two weeks ago I had to plot all a bunch of data on a single figure.  In addition to the basic plot, I had to include several other pieces of information we had on each source.  So I had to write a program to change the plotting symbol based on that information, and my task breakdown for that code looked like this:

Plot this diagram, XvsY
  • Distinguish type A from type B
  • Distinguish types 1, 2, & 3
  • Distinguish between 6 data sources
  • Plot X vs Y
I leave space to annotate this if a sub-task requires several steps or I have to stop partway through.  In this case, I added a note to fix the symbols for the data source, and then broke the plotting down further (plot type A before type B, add error bars, add a legend). 

Finally, I don't force myself to go in order unless the tasks require it.  I skip around and work on whichever task I feel like, and check off each task/subtask as I finish it.  Eventually, I have to do the ones I'm dreading or that are just plain annoying, but I can procrastinate on those by working through the others.  This technique is all about tricking my brain.