Grass Roots Productivty - Always Be Capturing

Everyone has their own preferred system for getting things done. Whether it’s GTD, maintaining chains, the pomodoro technique or some other method there’s something out there for everyone.

Having tried just about every technique possible and a few hybrids of I’ve come to rely on four basic actions that help me get things done. I’ve come to call this Grass Roots Productivity.

The first step in this system is ensuring you know what you want to get done. This starts with the process of capturing.

Most productivity systems have the idea of an inbox. A place to collect the stuff you want to do. Without this inbox you would be as well just plucking stuff to do out of thin air. Capturing is an essential habit to get into because without it, there’s second step to getting stuff done.

The capture process is something I go through numerous times a day. Links, actions, documents, text and other bits of data. Each of these types of data have their own respective inbox. On the digital side there is Pinboard, Instapaper, Todoist and a few other places. On the analog side I’ve got a notebook and a planner. While the digital inboxes have very focused types of data being captured, the notebook and planner act as loose fitting items that don’t quite fit anywhere else.

The way I do this is to have easy access to each of those inboxes. For the digital inboxes I have either email addresses or keyboard shortcuts setup to quickly save to the respective inbox.

For the analog inboxes, I simply leave my notebook and planner left open on my desk, ready to record whatever I need to. I use the notebook for capturing items on the go. The benefit of this is that it’s a simple action of recording the task and moving on. No distraction by other apps or notifications or any other distraction that digital devices are famous for.

Capturing is an essential but often overlooked step in any productivity system. Without capturing we don’t have any sensible place to start and we always need a place to start.

Finding the Value in Twitter

I think of social media as one of those necessary evils in life. I’m well aware of the benefits of globally connected platforms that keeps people in touch, especially in the event of a natural disaster or event. Social media has proved itself as great way to keep people in contact with others. Like I said, that’s all good, but a good social media platform has value. Things that interest me as a consumer. Links, text, images. Anything that falls within my interests is valuable.

Lately it seems that Twitter has been failing in this respect. There’s doesn’t seem to be any value in Twitter anymore. I’m in a constant battle of finding people to follow and unfollowing people that don’t tweet anymore. This wasn’t a problem when I first used Twitter as I could see the value from my timeline. Interesting tweets and links had value and it kept me checking into my timeline on a regular basis. Now, it seems that I can go a couple of days without checking Twitter and not miss anything.

I was an early user of Twitter. A year after it launched I created my Twitter account. After a few years though I wasn’t seeing the same value that I seen in the early years of Twitter and so I closed my account. I ended up re-creating my account on Twitter last year. There’s a problem though. The problem lies in the fact that I haven’t a clue what I’m using Twitter for. Since starting my Twitter account up again, I’ve had a few interactions with others and it serves it’s purpose in a few areas, but mostly I’m wondering if I even need it at all.

These days though I’m stepping back from Twitter and using it mainly as a source of content to consume rather than to publish things. I’m also keeping my use of it sporadic. I’ve noticed a few other people are changing the way they use Twitter as well. People that I know would tweet all through the day are now down to just tweeting a handful of times a day at most. I’ve even stopped using tools like Buffer for sharing content. I just don’t see the need in tools like that when I’m more of an infrequent visitor to Twitter.

So is Twitter still valuable? I think it’s largely lost it’s value for me. I only check it a couple of times a day. Twitter has it’s uses but I don’t see the great need for it like I did a few years ago. It still has a value for my freelancing business and I’m in the process of moving some of the people I follow to that account, but that is a topic for tomorrow’s post.

Still Here

The observant among you will have noticed another lull in my writing here. It’s been a frustrating few months trying to get back to a steady rhythm of blogging. I truly miss the days from a couple of years ago when I was writing and publishing on a daily basis. Those were good times.

There are a number of reasons why this has happened and I won’t bore you with the obvious ones like “I’m too busy” and “I’m too tired”. Instead I thought I would take a look at the not so obvious reasons.

I don’t have the thousands of avid readers that others have but there is a steadily increasing number of readers here. Page views and visitors have been going up over the last two three years. A good sign that I’m doing something right. And yet ever since I noticed the amount of traffic my blog has been receiving, I’ve noticed that the frequency with which I write to the blog has been decreasing.

Stage fright?

You might call it that. I’ve lost track of the amount of posts that I have started writing and then abandoned. It’s frustrating to start writing something and then trash it and go over the process again and again. I find that half the battle is not in writing something but writing something fit to publish.

The second reason is the choice of topics. For a long time I was writing daily about apps, web development, freelancing, productivity and a few other things. Trying to find something to write about in these areas has been a struggle lately. I’m starting to wonder if I am restricting myself in the topics that I could be writing about. Do I need to start looking further afield? Maybe. Or maybe I need to look back on what I wrote in the past and refresh it? Lots of things change and the topics that I wrote about three years ago could have changed.

Who knows.

All I know is that the mere act of reflecting on the lack of writing has prompted me to write something for the blog. And that is a start in the right direction once more.

The Benefit of Writing When Blogging

When Ethan was at golf coaching before Christmas, he asked the professional how many balls he would need to hit to get his swing perfect or as close too. His reply straight to the point, “10,000”. Given the chance I have no doubt that Ethan would have started that night trying to rack up as many swings at the ball as he could.

If you practice something long enough you’ll eventually be good at it. Great? May be. Good? Most likely. It doesn’t matter if you’ve already got prior knowledge or your new to something. Spend enough time at it and you’ll get better.

The same goes for writing.

When I first started blogging I looked for something to write about that people would like to read but that’s a rookie mistake. If you want to find something to write about then write something that you will want to read as an individual. Write the web you want to read.

Yes, we’re borrowing slightly from Austin Kleon’s “Write the book you want to read”, but the goal in each case is the same.

I also don’t write straight into my blog anymore. I did this for a year, but there came a point where I was just going through the motions. I was filling up the space for the day and when I read back what I was writing, I didn’t like what I seen.

Instead I write far away from any digital interface that will allow me to easily publish. I write in notebooks, plain text files, and in some cases, even on an index card. Write anywhere that doesn’t have a big “Publish” button at the side of it. It will give you a chance to read, review and edit your writing.

I’m certainly not an expert on whether my writing has improved using a scale of measure but I would like to think that after this amount of time writing on this blog, I have improved my writing in some respects.

Rebooting

It’s the running joke of all IT support departments. When your computer, phone, printer, or any other technology device plays up, the first question they’ll get asked is, “Did you turn it off and on again?”.

Friends and family often phone me with their technology problems and the first they’ll say they did is reboot whatever device is playing up. There’s a reason why this sometimes works, and I say sometimes.

When you start any computer it’s starts afresh. the memory is clear and there are no apps running. When a computer has been on for a while it becomes different from when it’s turned on. It’s no longer a clean slate. Rebooting the computer often fixes these problems as it returns the computer to a clean slate and clears out the memory of the computer. Most computers aren’t designed to run forever on a single boot, so the chance to reboot and start over is a good thing.


Since the start of the year a friend of mine has been helping me getting back into shape. I’ve been doing weight training and circuits on top of my regular cycling to lose some weight and get fit. I’m glad to say it’s working. For three weeks in March though I went through a phase of stomach bugs, colds and coughs. I wasn’t able to train for that time.

Last week I was well enough to start training again, but having been away from it for so long, I was starting over again. I wasn’t great on my first two sessions, but the chance to start over again has given me the chance to change up my training so that I’m focusing on different exercises on different days of the week.


Rebooting shouldn’t be seen as another chance to make a goal after a recent failure, think of it as a break. A chance to chance to start over and more importantly to make improvements towards getting to that goal.

Try introducing scheduled reboots into any long running habits or routines you might have. The opportunity to look back at them might yield a change for the better.

Just like the computer, we need a clean slate everyone in a while. Take the time to reboot and start over.

Impeccable Taste

Last week was the funeral service for my uncle who suddenly passed away a couple of weeks earlier. The sudden shock of his passing is still there, but there’s something else there. Something I’ll always remember him for. Not only was he the nicest guy and a loving husband, dad and grandpa and of course uncle, he had a great taste in music.

My family are huge music fans. My mum, dad, aunts and uncles all appreciate a wide variety of music. Hardly surprising given that they all grew up in a time where The Beatles and The Rolling Stones ruled the music industry and the world. My uncle’s taste in music was no exception.

I remember many Saturday nights spent at his house playing with my cousins and running round the house causing chaos while the parents all sat in the living room with a few drinks and the music echoing through the house. I often wonder now if the music was played loudly to block out the rampaging kids! That music echoing through the house definitely rubbed off on me though. I can say without a doubt that I do like lots of music from the same era.

My uncle’s funeral service included a couple of his favourite songs and have prompted me to dig back through the archives for those albums and the albums that I also grew up listening too. I might not have grown up in the golden age of music, but I do have an appreciation for the my uncle’s taste in music. And without a doubt, it was impeccable.

How to Find a Great Task Manager

Finding a great task manager can be a daunting affair. Aside from the fact there are so many of them, there’s only so much time that you can dedicate to trying them out. You’ll never pick the right one first time, so how do you find a good matching task manager?

After three years of using Todoist I know that it works for me. A week ago I dabbled with Wunderlist out of curiosity, but I couldn’t adjust to the different interface that Wunderlist offered. It’s nothing to do with Wunderlist itself, it’s a great task manager but it just didn’t work for me. That’s the key thing to look for when assessing task managers. Find the right one that works for you. Here’s how to do it.

Ask yourself what’s the three critical features that you need from your task manager. It might be portability, it might be integration with other services, it might even be important to you to use a hand-written notes. Whatever is important to you then add it to a list.

This is important because if you’re blindly testing task managers without knowing what works best for you, then you’re going to find it hard to find one that works for you.

I chose Todoist because it has three features that I think are essential to how I work.

  1. Todoist has great email integration. The inbox and each project includes their own email address so that I can quickly capture tasks on the go and while I work.
  2. Todoist has a minimal user-interface. This is important to me because it lets me focus on reviewing tasks, picking the next one and moving on. Todoist’s user-interface is simple and offers little in the way of distractions.
  3. Todoist is easy to use. Click, drag, type. The hallmarks of any desktop or web based application, but Todoist makes it easy to move tasks, edit tasks and find tasks.

If Todoist was to close down overnight and I had to pick a new task manager then I would look for a new task manager that matched at least two of these requirements. Three would be a better match, but it’s not essential that the task manager you pick meets all three requirements.

By identifying the features that are essential to me, I’ve been able to find a task manager that doesn’t distract and gets the job done. Your requirements might be different though so that’s what you need to look for. Find your own essential requirements and you’ll find it easier to find a task manager that works for you.

Kill, Commit or Transform Your Writing

I’ll be honest. I’m probably not the ideal person to be giving advice on writing but here’s a little bit of advice for those aspiring bloggers and writers who frequently question their own writing much like I do.

Last week I had an idea for a technical article. Over the course of the next few days I outlined the article, wrote a couple of drafts, edited it and then read the final draft back to myself. I hated it. It lacked purpose and it didn’t offer enough value to the programmers who would be reading it. In the past I would have simply trashed the article and moved onto something else but is there another way?

In her book “Manage Your Project Portfolio”, Johanna Rothman has great advice about evaluating software projects and deciding what action to take with projects.

Once you’ve decided you should do this project, you have a limited number of decisions to make. You can commit to a project, kill a project, or transform a project to increase its chances of success.

This could be equally applied to writing.

I’ve already mentioned that in the past I would trash any articles that didn’t meet the grade. Everything else was published. What about transforming that article into something else though? Could we salvage something from it?

I decided to transform the article rather than killing it. It took a couple of hours but in the end up I had a different style of article on a related topic to my original article. I was happy enough with the final result and its now added to the growing pile of technical articles to be published next year.

When it comes to writing it doesn’t need to be publish or trash. If something doesn’t meet the grade then consider transforming it into something else. It’s definitely worth considering rather than throwing away what could be a potentially great piece of writing.

Nothing Scheduled, Nothing Gained

This blog has been gradually winding down in activity for the last few weeks. You’ve probably noticed. It’s been hard to watch as I used to be a frequent poster. Daily blog posts, links and other trivial things that might interest you the reader.

Truth of the matter is that client work has all but consumed my week. I’ve got two projects on at the moment and I’m splitting my time between them in fortnightly periods. The work is good and it looks like it will carry through to the new year which I’ve no complaints over.

The problem has been dividing my time so that I’m not always hunkered over my desk. My desk is where you’ll find me through the day, usually wrestling with some code, but sitting there outside of my client hours makes it difficult to ‘switch off’. Lately though, once the client work is finished you’ll usually find me playing with the kids until bedtime and then its television for an hour or two before the exhaustion kicks in.

A couple of years ago I had a good routine going. Writing in the morning, 3 periods of client work throughout the day, as well as time to work on new languages and frameworks and working on side-projects. I was getting things done. Not just that, but I was also getting out on the bike and keeping the weight off. Last time I was out on the bike was a few weeks ago with Ethan. I haven’t been out on the bike since.

Last night I took a look at the heat map on my Timepage app for December. Aside from the usual calendar functions, it shows your calendar as a heat map where you’re busy and not so busy. Almost nothing showed up. There’s a day where Ethan has golf coaching and a day for the Star Wars showing. Apart from that there was nothing. It seems I have lost sight of one of the fundamentals of any productivity system. Schedule it.

Client work has become such a big part of my day that I no longer plan for anything else getting done. Without the planning of the day most stuff falls through the cracks. It’s usually the little things like writing and side-projects. They’ve suffered the most.

Out of sight, out of mind. If you don’t see something often enough you tend to forget about it. Like my calendar. I didn’t plan for anything and therefore didn’t see the need to look at my calendar. Everyday was turning into the same work getting done so why bother scheduling anything?

I’ve just proven to myself that there’s nothing gained from an empty calendar. Time to change that.

Drowning in Digital

I regularly go through the feeling of drowning in digital. I like being online and everything that comes with it, but when you’re working with software and development tools all day, the last thing I want to see at the end of my work day is a tablet, my phone or even my television.

This week I’ve spent a fair bit of time looking at my various digital outlets and wondering if they are in fact worth the effort to maintain. Here’s my list so far:

  • My blog
  • Twitter
  • App.net

App.net is definitely going. I’ve no interest in keeping an account alive for the sake of having the name of the handle I would prefer. If someone else grabs it, fine. I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.

I have a love/hate thing going with Twitter. I love being able to have one presence on the social network scene. I’m not on Google+ or Facebook, so having an account on Twitter isn’t a bad thing. I hate what Twitter is though. It’s a distracting and destructive time consumer if it isn’t managed properly and lately it seems to be hoarding all my time. The worst part is I’m not tweeting that often to warrant spending the amount of time I do on it. There’s also the problem of activity. The people that I follow just aren’t as active as they used to be. Maybe that’s a good thing, but sometimes it feels like there’s nothing going on in the timeline. Am I missing the point of Twitter?

Finally, the blog. I had my finger over my mouse for a few seconds ready to trash the whole thing. Years of posts and stuff gone a in a few seconds. I didn’t though as you can see as it’s still here. I like my blog, I like the outlet it gives but lately it’s become a burden and it shouldn’t be. I’m faced with two choices for this. The first choice is I keep going with this blog and change my posting routine to be less intensive. One blog post a week is enough with a weekly link post to round up things. The second choice is to start a new blog elsewhere. I’ve got a couple of other domains at hand that I could start from. This site would stay up and running for the foreseeable future, but at some point it would be put out to pasture.

Decisions, decisions.