In Praise of the Humble Desk Calendar

At the start of 2012 I was working in a small team within a government department’s IT division. The agenda for my first day back at work after a short break over the Christmas and New Year period was quite simple: check email and source a day-by-day desk calendar for my desk.

The first task was easily taken care of: very little email had come through in the previous two weeks. And so to point two: finding a desk calendar.

When I looked through all the stationery cupboards on our floor and couldn’t find any, I sought out the person in charge of ordering stationery. Perhaps they hadn’t come in yet, or maybe I had just missed them in too hasty an appraisal of stationery cupboard contents in my rounds of the floor.

Nope, I was told. There were no desk calendars because the division simply hadn’t ordered any. Physical calendars, including day-by-day calendars, were deemed obsolete in a division where everyone carried a smartphone.

I decided to buy one for myself and went back to my desk to ask my colleagues if they wanted one too. My question was met with an exchange of quizzical looks, then laughter and finally, holding up their smartphones, comments about desk calendars being “old school” and whether I would perhaps like to join them in the twenty-first century.

Now, you may remember from a previous post of mine that I don’t have a smartphone. Even if I did, though, I would still want my day-by-day desk calendar. And here’s why.

Quite simply, the day-by-day desk calendar is one of the most brilliant pieces of multi-functional stationery ever invented by man.

Here’s what it can do:

It lets you know what the day and date is. Really simply, in big, friendly, easy-to-read letters and numbers. No mistaking one day for the other and buggering up appointments with the desk calendar.

It’s a notepad. You can take notes on it. Perfect for when the phone rings. Perfect for adding reminders to special days. Perfect for writing daily to-do lists on. Perfect for doodling on. Perfect in so many ways! There are usually a few extra blank pages at the end of the calendar – “just in case” – and the calendar stand even has a handy spot for a pen or pencil so you’re never caught short.

Each page on a day-by-day calendar also shows you the entire month, as well as the previous and next month. Not only that, but at the start of the calendar, there’s also a full year calendar for the current year, the previous year and the next year. Having an argument about what day a certain date fell on last year? No problem – you can check! Want to know what day your birthday will fall on next year? You can check that too! It’s genius, I tell you!

Undoubtedly, though, my absolute favourite part of a day-by-day desk calendar is the daily quote at the bottom of each page. It might be a clever and witty bon mot, a snippet of deep and meaningful philosophy, a truism delivered wisely, or just a hilariously silly one-liner.

Whenever I turn the page and contemplate a new day, I stop for a moment, read the quote and think about it. Sometimes it might just be a way to start the day with a smile. Other times it can be something so profound and timely that it shines a light into a dark corner of my mind. I can be amused or inspired, educated or enlightened.

I know smartphones (and tablets and computers) come with calendar applications. And yes, there are a gazillion apps to deliver you as many quotes as you wish to read. But you actually have to choose to access the quotes, to go out and seek them. And when are you going to have the time or inclination to do that? I’m guessing not very often.

Whereas the day-by-day desk calendar slyly inserts a little dose of daily wisdom, humour or inspiration right into every day. And it’s the random nature of the delivery that makes it most enjoyable.

So, in honour of the humble day-by-day desk calendar, that hard-working wonder of the stationery world, here are a few of my favourite quotes from this year’s calendar (that is, so far; there has been no cheating by looking ahead!):

“Your work is to discover your work and then, with all your heart, to give yourself to it.” – Buddha

“We are all here for some special reason. Stop being a prisoner of your past. Become an architect of your future.” – Robin Sharma

“I haven’t failed. I just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

“Don’t be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.” – David Lloyd George

“We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.” – Charles R. Swindoll

“Summer afternoon – summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” – Henry James

“There are only two emotions in a plane: boredom and terror.” – Orson Wells

Day by day desk calendar showing page for 30 September with the word "Blog" circled on the notepad


Theories About Time part 2: the Blip Theory

Continuing on from yesterday’s post, my second theory about time, formulated just last year, is called the Blip Theory. I appreciate that’s not nearly as sexy sounding as “Slowing Time Down”.

I came up with the Blip Theory as part of a series of strategies to start seriously combatting stress.

Over the last few years, it’s become very apparent to me that my body manifests any stress I’m feeling in very annoying and painful – albeit sometimes creative – ways. Eczema, migraines, mouth ulcers, cold sores. You name it, I’ll get it.

Seeing anything in perspective is bound to help you understand and deal with it better, so I saw that as a key strategy: find a way to see my problems or issues in perspective.

People will often tell you the best way to do this is to compare your own problems to the much worse problems of others.

For example, are you stressing about your work? At least you don’t have a terminal illness! Do you have a terminal illness? At least you don’t have a terminal illness in a war-torn country in which there’s no proper healthcare! That sort of thing.

I’ve always found that kind of advice unhelpful. Not having someone else’s problems is not a consolation because I’m not that other person. I’m not living their life. I’m living my own. And my own life stresses me out.

So I came up with my own perspective measure. I started imagining my entire life – from birth to death (in the far, far, distant future!) – as a simple timeline about 30 centimetres in length, each centimetre covering about three years. Then I’d think about where the particular issue that I was stressing about, whether big or small, would appear on the timeline in relation to the rest of my life.

That would then lead to the realisation that most things that I stress about are just little blips in my life that really, in the scheme of things, don’t bear worrying about and certainly don’t warrant getting sick over.

I call that the Blip Realisation, and it leads to the Blip Theory: Time is the measure of perspective by which we should judge all events in our life in order to reduce stress.

When you apply the Blip Theory to the majority of issues that stress you out, you’ll realise that they’re so miniscule in the scheme of your own life that they’re actually not worth stressing over.

I have to confess that sometimes I’m so caught up in the day to day minutiae of my life that I forget to apply it right away. An issue gets the better of me, I start stressing, and my eczema starts flaring up.

Then I remember the Blip Theory, think about my timeline, see the issue in perspective and the eczema, or whatever else has manifested, goes away. The stress dissipates.

It seriously works. Every single time.

PS 1 If you really want to take the Blip Theory to an extreme that will blow your mind, take a look at this fantastic post on wait but why about putting time into perspective. (Thanks to my friend TC for the share via Twitter.)

PS 2 There have been some interesting posts on stress on The Six Element recently that you may like to check out.

Theories About Time part 1: the Slowing Time Down Theory

Over the last decade or so I’ve developed two theories about time. For a non-physicist – in fact, for a non-scientist – I think that’s pretty impressive.

The first one, formulated some time between 2000 and 2004, I will call the Slowing Time Down Theory. Sounds promising, doesn’t it?

In 2004, I went to Greece for ten days for the Athens Olympics. Nearly everyone I told thought I was mad to go “all that way” and spend “all that money” on airfares, not to mention “all that time” in flight, for just ten days on the ground.

The conventional wisdom in Australia is that if you travel to Europe you need to go at least for several months, which is surely as much a legacy of our days as an English colony as our long service leave entitlements are.

While I didn’t feel the need to justify my actions to anyone, I did take the time to explain two things to each person who seemed outraged or shocked by my decision.

Firstly, my sister-in-law had given me some great advice when I was deciding whether to go to Mexico in 2000 for eight days and that was: “Len, they can’t all be long trips.” In other words, if you wait till you have the money and time to take a three month holiday every time you want to travel longer than 10 hours away from Australia you’ll be waiting a very long time. In fact, the stars may never align. So better to take short trips when you can than potentially miss out on going at all.

Secondly, according to my Slowing Time Down Theory, the ten day trip would actually seem like a lot longer. In fact, it would feel more like a month. So the trip would definitely warrant the expense and the time spent flying.

This is what I had experienced in Mexico in 2000. I was gone for just eight days but it felt more like a few weeks. Then in 2001 I was in Greece for a month but it felt more like two to three months.

Why is it so? Well, it’s really quite straightforward.

Adult life is generally very highly scheduled. We are constantly moving through life according to a relatively strict routine. The alarm goes off at a regular time, you catch public transport (or drive) to work at a regular time, you start work at a regular time, have your lunch break at a regular time, finish work at a regular time. During the day, especially if you work in an office and super especially if you work in Government, you have regular meetings at regular times. You catch public transport (or drive) home, eat dinner, watch the news and/or your favourite TV shows and then finally go to bed all at – you guessed it – regular times. Do you go to the gym or piano or book club or any other activities? Chances are you do it at a regular time.

Weekends are a little bit more relaxed, but even then there’s usually a routine, especially if you have kids.

We are constantly aware of time. Where we need to be at a certain time, how long we need to be there, and what we’re doing next.

The Slowing Time Down Theory holds that the moment you break your regular routine and stop accounting for every minute of your day, time seems to slow down.

This is why when you’re on vacation, days stretch out and you seem to fit so much more into a single day. You might have things booked but they’re not at the same time every day. So it’s not that you don’t have things planned or have a schedule of sorts, it’s that it’s not a routine.

It even works if you just take time out and go away for a weekend. Weekends away always seem longer than normal weekends because you don’t follow the usual routine.

It also explains why time seems to last longer when you’re a child.

Even though your life might be routine, when you’re a kid you’re not the one doing the scheduling. It’s not you that’s hyper-aware of the time.

Others – your parents, your teacher, whoever is responsible for ringing the bell at school – are aware of it for you and propel you from one event to another. They tell you it’s time to get up, it’s time to eat breakfast, it’s time to go to school, have lunch, do your homework…and on it goes. You just float from one event to the other. And then on the holidays, when all regular activity is on hold, time seems to stretch out even longer.

As you get older and become more responsible for yourself, time suddenly starts speeding up. Next thing you know you’re saying things like, “Wow, where did the year go?” and “time flies!” and “the weekend went by too quickly!” You never hear kids saying stuff like that.

So there, my friends, you have it. The secret to slowing time down. Switch off your routine. Take off your watch. And just live.

Trust me, it works. Every time.

Inspiring stuff: Melbourne a global leader in sustainabilty, creates jobs and a livable city

A guest post care of my good friend Mike, taken from his blog “Watching the Deniers”, which is about combatting the climate change deniers and sceptics, and addressing the misinformation out there.

The City of Melbourne has been awarded as a leader in sustainability in an awards ceremony in London for its green buildings program.

This really is great, inspirational stuff. I heart Melbourne too!

Watching the Deniers


Permit me to exhibit a bit of home town pride, but the city of Melbourne has recetnly been recognised as a leader in sustainability:

The City of Melbourne has been recognised as a global leader in cultivating green buildings, receiving a prestigious international award.

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle was presented with the C40 and Siemens Climate Leadership Award in the category of Energy Efficient Built Environment at a ceremony in London overnight. Berlin and New York were also shortlisted for the award.

“Melbourne, the most liveable city in the world, has now been recognised as having some of the smartest buildings in the world,” the Lord Mayor said.

“We know that sustainability and liveability are inexorably linked. For us to maintain a high standard of living we need to set the highest standards in sustainability.

“Every piece of research tells me that a sustainable city with high quality of…

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