Why fear is another form of storytelling – and what it can teach us

Fear of doing harm. Fear of rejection. Fear of being seen as wrong or crazy. Fear of failure. Fear of success.

These are just some of the fears that have prevented people in the Idealist community from acting on their intentions. But it doesn’t always have to be an obstacle. If wielded correctly, fear can propel us to do amazing things.

In this TED talk, author Karen Thompson Walker encourages us to see fear not as a weakness or danger, but something that fuels our imaginations.

“Fear is… a kind of unintentional storytelling we’ll all born knowing how to do,“ she says. By thinking of fear as part of the narrative of our lives, we are better able to imagine our future and take the necessary steps toward action.

We’d love to know: How how have you turned fear on its head to help you in your journey to better your community?

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Time management tools for Idealists

We know that changing the world can sometimes be a process that’s tough to organize. There are meetings to run, articles to read, relationships to build…

We certainly don’t have all the answers, but decided to round up some of the tricks and tools our staff use to make the most of our time.

Task management:

Craig Dennis (Website):
I use Remember The Milk and their Android application to follow a very light version of the Getting Things Done task management philosophy.  Once I started putting literally everything I need to do in there, prioritized and categorized, I no longer have that sinking, “What should I be doing right now?” feeling.

Chris Machuca (Grad Degree Fairs):
I’m a big fan of Behance’s Action Journal. In a single page, I can capture my notes from meetings, jot down my ideas for projects, and distill the subsequent tasks necessary to complete them. Also, it doesn’t hurt that the Journal comes in a stylish, Moleskine-like cover!


Photo of pomodoro timers from psd (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Michel Pelletier (Website):
In the past, I’ve used open source tools like GnoTime and Trac to keep track of time and tasks.  Lately, I’ve been intrigued by something I’ve read about called The Pomodoro Technique. This is a very simple technique involving a 25 minute timer, usually in the shape of a tomato.

Mike Sayre (Programs):
I really like Springpad!  It organizes tasks and information really well, using either tags or categories.  Any note is searchable by tag, category, or full text, and they offer apps for Android or iPhone.  To top it off, the interface is pretty easy on the eyes.


Kara Montermoso (Operations):
I like Google calendar because of the ability to plan way in advance. I use it to separate work commitments from life commitments, but I’m able to view them at the same time. For example, I color code the calendar to plan my family’s dinners for the week, my daughter Maya’s school obligations and also my personal life and work at Idealist. The email reminders are handy, especially when I need to remember something is happening in two weeks.

Amy Potthast (Careers and service programs):
NudgeMail is an email-based efficiency tool – forward any email to NudgeMail and tell NudgeMail to send it back to you at a more opportune time. For example, you read an important email on the commute home; forward it to NudgeMail and indicate you want it forwarded back to you when you’re back in the office the next day when you can respond with a clear head. I like it because emails are less likely to vanish in my inbox.


Celeste Hamilton Dennis (Programs):
I can be easily distracted, especially when I’m using my computer. It’s not unusual for me to have fifteen tabs open at once. So when I want to get some serious writing done, I use an application called Write Room. It blacks out my entire desktop and helps me focus solely on the words.

Julia Smith (Communications):
Sure, I love Instapaper and Google Apps and all this good stuff…but can I put in a vote for good old-fashioned self-care? I’m most likely to stay on track (and not open a zillion browser tabs and windows) when I cook healthy food, exercise, and most importantly, get a good night’s sleep.

What about you? What tools help you stay on track?

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If I Had a Hammer: Tool Lending Libraries

I love public libraries. They provide a fair system for sharing books, movies, and other media with other members of the community. It seems only natural that the library model could be expanded to include other useful, shareable items.

By Flickr user takomabibelot (Creative Commons)

So I was thrilled when I heard about tool lending libraries. Tools, like books, are infinitely useful and empowering, but sometimes only get used once. Tool lending libraries, which often work just like regular libraries, allow people to borrow things like drills, clamps, and wheelbarrows — making repairs and improvement projects more affordable and accessible.

Wikipedia lists more than 25 tool libraries around the United States, Canada, and Australia. Many are run out of existing public libraries (Berkeley Public Library was one of the first to offer the service) or other government agencies.

Some tool libraries are affiliated with volunteer programs. HandsOn Greater Portland lends out tools for volunteer projects, while HandsOn New Orleans offers the tools that aren’t currently being used for volunteer projects out to the public. In addition to a tool library, Rebuilding Together Central Ohio sends volunteers to help low-income, elderly, and disabled community members with house repairs.

Other libraries are limited to lending tools that serve a certain purpose. The Ottawa Public Library lends out pedometers to encourage citizens to walk more and improve their health. Silicon Valley Power offers tools (electric meters, caulking guns, etc.) that help Santa Clara residents and businesses monitor and increase their energy efficiency.

If you already have more tools than you know what to do with, consider donating some to a tool library near you.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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