Posts Tagged “by-me”

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.

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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.

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The Hobby Writer

I’ve got something of a fascination with writing. It’s not that I want to become a writer, although the idea is rather tempting, I’m just curious about the process that writers go through from an idea or concept through to the final published article or book.

The fascination with writing started in secondary school. For an assignment we had to submit a short story on anything we wanted. I wrote about my first experience with a death in the family that happened just a few years before I started secondary school. After submitting the story I didn’t think anything else of it until the day we got our assignments back. There were a few red pen marks where I had bad grammar or spelling mistakes but other than that I received a “very good” on my assignment. After class the teacher asked me to stay back for a minute. He congratulated me on the honesty of my story and the re-telling of the moment in my life.

A couple of years later and during the build up to my exams we had to submit a short story. At the time I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy books, so I decided to try and pull the two genres together into a single story. Unfortunately it sounded too much like a series of books that was already out, but I decided to run with it any and see what I could do. I received a favourable grade for my story but I was marked down for my short story being unoriginal.

It was few years from then until I started a mind mapping blog called MindMapSwitch. It was my first attempt at writing and while the blog was a moderate success, it did get me more hooked on writing. It was during this time that I bought Stephen King’s On Writing book as well as a few ebooks on writing.

Today, I’m still writing as often as I can, but the idea of being a writer is something that seems so far away. A number of people I follow on Twitter have made the jump to being full-time writers or are on their way. They’re publishing as often as they can and they are clearly happy with the change to being a full-time writer.

Despite writing on my blog now for over two years, I still don’t identify myself as a writer. I do write yes but it’s more on a hobby basis. I write for myself when I can and that’s it. I have ideas for books that I would one day like to write but the prospect of even putting out a short book on a particular topic seems so out of my reach. For now I’m fine with having an interest in writing. As long as I’m on the fringe of writing, it will be something I’ll always appreciate.

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Where's the Value In Writing?

For the last two weeks I’ve been writing my morning pages. The fact that I have managed to keep this going for two weeks is a good sign and I’m glad to be doing it again. The content of the writing itself isn’t important, well not at the beginning anyway.

What eventually happens though is that I do find something to write about after those first few paragraphs. The writing then becomes more focused and I start to see where my morning pages are going. It doesn’t always become something of value, most of the time it’s just a stream of thoughts on the page but every now again there’s an idea or thought there than can be the basis for a blog post or an article.

In doing this I’ve started to realise something

When we make something easy, we reduce its value.

Writing a word is easy. Anyone can do it, but the value of the word is almost worthless. Without context or surrounding words to form a sentence, the word is nothing but a word. It’s worthless.

Writing a sentence is just as easy for most of us. Even writing a paragraph should be easy for most of us. And that’s when we start to see a glimmer of value. That’s when your writing can become something of value. Beyond this where do we go?

Writing a letter, a blog post, a long form article or even a book. As the number of words needed to fulfil each form of writing is passed, the next form of writing becomes harder and harder to do. At the same time though, the value of that piece of writing increases.

Writing enough words to make a book. That’s real value. Assuming your writing is coherent and is of a high enough quality for someone to take the time out to read it. That’s real value, but it’s also difficult to do and that’s the trick with writing.

If you want your writing to be valuable then it needs to be more than a word, a sentence or even a paragraph. Shorter forms of writing should be difficult to do but not out with your grasp. Anything longer than this will definitely be difficult to do but still possible.

Writing is difficult to do, but that’s what is going to make your writing stand out from the writing of everyone else (or even their lack of writing). You’ve taken the difficult road to writing something of value.

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Blank Pages

Blank pages are great. They are empty to begin with. Devoid of markings, letters, pictures, symbols or any written mark that represents something. They are empty for a reason. They need to be filled. But what with?

With a blank page you can start writing. A sentence, a paragraph, a poem, a short story, a long story, a film, a trilogy of films. It all begins on a blank page with a few words.

With a blank page you can start drawing, sketching or even doodle. Whatever it is you want to call it. Your thoughts visualised could be an idea that will change the world or act as a window for future generations to see through. It all begins on a blank page with a few lines.

With a blank page you can start making. Take an idea. Iterate over it with different approaches. Draw variations of it, list the pros and cons for each different variation. Finalize it before moving forward. It all begins on a blank page with an idea.

With a blank page you are recording a thought or idea that could outlive you and even the end of this century. With a blank page you are freeing yourself from the confines of technology. With a blank page you have decided that it is better to have a reliable means of recording that doesn’t require wi-fi, the Internet or even a battery.

Did I mention that blank pages are great?

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Less Listening, More Learning

Podcasts and screencasts can eat up a lot of time. I’ve started to see a swing towards listening to podcasts and watching screencasts and less time spent putting what I get from them into practice.

For the last year I’ve been a healthy listener of a variety of podcasts. They are centered around software development, programming and freelancing. Every week I listen to about five or six different episodes on these topics. While they’re entertaining to listen to, I’m starting to see that I’m not getting as much value from them. Sure there’s sometimes a glimmer of programming language knowledge that you didn’t know about, but is it worth putting in a good half hour of your time for that one little morsel of knowledge?

Then there’s the screencasts. I had a few of these going last year, again on the topic of software development. Screencasts definitely need more of your time as you can’t watch them when you’re out on the bike or in the car, they need you to both listen and watch. In terms of getting time to watch these, I simply didn’t have the time available. And then every few weeks I would simply declare screencast redundancy and remove them from my list to watch.

Since removing these from my list of intakes I’m seeing more of a move towards reading online, books and RSS feeds. They can be more easily consumed on the go and using smaller blocks of time. This in turn has allowed me to spend a bit more time learning those things that I only listened to in podcasts or watched in screencasts.

Learning isn’t simply about consuming as much information about the topic that you’re interested in, you need time to apply what you have consumed and seeing if you can in fact you use it correctly. I hope to be doing that a lot more this year and re-address the balance of learning.

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The De-cluttered Desk

I had been putting it off for weeks, probably months in fact. My desk was slowly becoming a paper-based version of Smaug’s hoard of gold . It was time for a de-clutter.

We don’t have a huge house but it’s big enough for us. My workspace is located in the back of sitting room where my sons tend to congregate in the evening and at the weekend. I’ve got a desk, bigger than probably most people have in their homes but with it being my workspace for the whole day it needs to have space to allow me to be comfortable.

Over the weekend I started organising the top of my desk and moving things about to give myself more room. It took a few iterations but I’m seeing a benefit of the change now as I write this. I have more space on my desk almost all cables are out of sight. Having got this sorted I turned towards the tower of books, magazines, papers and other dead-wood that was accumulating under my desk.

I was glad to see that I managed to get rid of a few programming books that were aimed at more of a novice level. I’ve kept some of these books for years, but having not read one of them in the last year, it was definitely time for them to go. Never a bad thing to throw away the books you have learned from and moved on. Old magazines for healthcare and programming were consigned to the recycle box with a vow to keep only the last month’s magazine.

Lastly it was the turn off the paper. With reams of paper cluttering under my desk, it was time to keep the stuff that needed to be processed and shred the rest.

The de-cluttered desk is now ready for some productive work. It’s amazing the difference that an exercise like this does for your motivation.

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Smaller Goals, More Opportunities

Setting a goal for the year is made by many at the start of each year, but people frequently give up or just abandon their goal because it seems too far away. With a little change in tact though, there’s a better way of hitting your goals for the year.

Set Smaller Goals

Instead of focusing on big goals for the year, what about setting smaller goals for throughout the year? Smaller goals are within easier reach, easier to track and it means that if the goal isn’t hit you can try again the next month.

When goals are set for the year, people usually forget to set aside regular checks to ensure they are on the right track. After a few weeks many people simple give up. With smaller goals though, you can set yourself a more manageable and attainable goal that will give you the confidence to succeed on subsequent goals.

Continually Refresh

The start of the new year is traditionally seen as the only and best chance to start afresh but there’s more than one opportunity available in the year to do this. New year, new month, new week or even new day. There’s more opportunities to start afresh than you think.

If you set yourself goals for smaller periods of time then you give yourself more chances to achieve that goal. Right okay, you didn’t do that bike ride in the time you wanted for January. Could you do it in February though?

The chance to start afresh is there every day, every week and every month. You just need to decide what you can realistically achieve in those periods of time.

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Measurable Goals

It’s that time of year where you should be thinking about goals and plans for next year. Here’s a little tip. Try measurable goals.

2015 is just around corner. Just over two weeks in fact. For many the setting of goals and plans for next year won’t begin until that period between Christmas and New Year. Right about that time where the over-indulgence of food will probably lead to a planned diet for the length of next year but will most likely only be until the second week of January. I learned a long time ago that setting such goals and plans on the eve of the New Year rarely last beyond January.

Such goals often fall apart simply due to them being set in such a short period of time with little thought to making actual plans to achieving those goals. They also rarely succeed due to the fact that there’s no clear end goal in mind. If your goals are financially related, why not think about the amount of savings you have just now. How much more would you like to have in savings by the end of next year? If your goals are health related, think in terms of improving the numbers you have now. What’s your time for a five minute mile now? How many seconds do you reckon you can take off by the end of next year?

At the end of last year I set myself a few goals. One of them was the total amount of income I wanted from my freelance work. I had a figure in mind that was more than the previous year. A good 25% more in fact. I managed to hit that goal this year with a steady stream of work coming in. Next year I’m increasing that figure again by a further 25%. With the projected work I have for next year, that figure can’t be gained by invoicing clients alone, it will require me to start thinking about income from products and services as well as perhaps re-negotiating my rates before the start of the new financial year in April.

A measurable goal is much more achievable when you define the figure you have now and the figure you want to achieve. It doesn’t need to be a goal for the whole of next year either, it could be a attainable in nine months, maybe even six. The point is that a measurable goal is an attainable goal.

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Project or Context?

Ensuring that your productivity system is correct is important if you want keep the actions flowing through it. Like deciding if a project is in fact a context.

Many of you have been reading my post on using projects in Todoist. Up to now I’ve always used projects in Todoist as lists. They’re just placeholders for actions. What I’m starting to see now though is that some of my projects might in fact be better used as contexts.

This week I listened to Mike Vardy’s Productivityist podcast and caught up with two episodes focusing on context and their application in productivity systems. It made me look more closely at my own projects in Todoist. I singled out two projects that I think are better suited to being contexts, reading and writing.

My reading project is just a list of chapters from the books I’m reading on a daily basis. Breaking books into chapters means that I can schedule different books in for different days. Reading isn’t a project, it’s a label to describe a particular action. My writing project is essentially a list of ideas for the blog, but writing isn’t a project. Writing describes the action. Clearly something is amiss here.

A context can be defined as the circumstances that surround a particular event. In the case of David Allen’s GTD framework, a context is a label that you put on your actions so that you know two things:

  1. What you need to get that action done
  2. When that action can be done

When I look at my projects I see them differently now. In the case of reading and writing, they’re not projects, they are in fact contexts. They are used to describe the circumstances in which I can finish their associated actions. I read a chapter of a book first thing in the morning as it’s when I’m most receptive. Writing tends to happen in the morning as well. I’m just more swithched on during this time. So not only do these contexts describe the action but also when I schedule them in the day as well.

I can’t recommend enough that you continually review your productivity workflow. Finding that point where everything falls into place isn’t going to happen overnight or even come boxed up and ready to go in a system like GTD. It takes time to see what works for you and what doesn’t. After taking out the reading and writing projects from Todoist, I’m starting to see a change in how I view projects in Todoist. I’m still digesting Erlend Hamberg’s 15 minute guide to GTD and there’s a few more changes that I’m going to try with projects in Todoist, but that folks is for another day.

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The Demise of Killer Apps?

Are killer apps a thing of the past?

I remember a few years back when Twitter was young and great, Facebook was viewed with more positive eyes than it is today and the mobile app stores were just starting out. Good times. It was also about this time that I heard the phrase killer app. For the uninitiated a killer app was often seen as an indispensible app that would help push the sales of the platform the app was run on. Simply put, people would buy the hardware needed to run the app in question. Back then, it seemed that every month there was a new app or service that would be tagged as the next killer app.

Fast forward to today and it’s not something I’ve heard often in the technology press. It’s still used to describe some apps but not as much. I still follow the same technology sites I did a few years ago, so what’s different?

The world has changed. There’s less of a technology barrier now than there’s ever been and that due to the small device that you’re probably reading this on. Over the last few years mobile apps and services have reduced, or in some cases removed, the complicated steps that would be required to carry out a specific task or action. Along with this simplification comes a growing market of companies and indie developers who all us to use their app. And the demand for apps shows no sign of slowing down. I was browsing through the productivity category of the App Store and there are hundreds of apps in this category. There are just so many choices.

Another factor in this is that the mobile market is not tied to one particular platform. In the past when mobile hardware platforms were getting past their first couple of release iterations, it was certainly clear that alot of people preferred the Apple platform and there were many apps that persuaded people to buy Apple’s hardware. Today though the market is more evenly divided. Apple and Google have their share along with others like Blackberry and Microsoft. I would be hard pressed to pick an app that certainly fits the name of killer app and that’s due to the fact that many apps are available on not just a single platform.

Which leads me to think that perhaps we’re past the stage of killer apps. With such a huge market for applications, there are dozens of apps that let you achieve the same result through different methods. Maybe now we’re not looking for killer apps, perhaps we’re looking for game changing apps. Not just new ways of doing things, but whole new markets of the mobile apps.

Wearable technology is still fairly new and with Apple’s new smartwatch due for release soon, there will be many tech pundits looking for the next killer app for wearable technology. Whether this becomes a market in mobile apps or a completely new market remains to be seen. Given the recent release of similar products by other technology firms though, I don’t think there will ever be a killer app for wearable tech.

Is the killer app dead? I would say yes for the foreseeable future but it certainly won’t stop business and developers using the title to promote their apps. I think it will take a whole new field of technology before we see true killer apps again. Apple Lense anyone?

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Simplifying Again

In the pursuit of workflow zen, I’ve been simplifying things a bit. It’s been a positive change so far.

Data is everywhere. We create and consume vast quantities of data everyday without giving a second thought to how much. Emails, tweets, posts, pictures, videos, messages and audio are just a few examples of the data that we interact with on a daily basis. And there’s no shortage of software to manage your data either. For each type or format of data you have, there could be hundreds of different options available to you to manage that data. Apps, web applications, scripts, services, products.

Not only are there tools that mostly persist and manipulate your data, there’s a new type of service available that pushes your data to other services based on triggers. Services like Zapier and IFTTT have the means to collect and distribute your data to other places depending on the triggers and services you specify. It can become mind boggling and complicated.

It was last year when I realised that I was pushing more data around different services than I needed. I started making some changes:

  • I stopped using a dedicated bookmarking service and instead opted to routinely drop a list of formatted markdown links into my blog.
  • I stopped using Evernote and instead starting using text files to manage lists and collections. Evernote is a great tool for keeping all your data together but I found it difficult to keep my data organised. The idea of notebooks and groups is good but I just couldn’t make it work. This isn’t a complaint against Evernote, it’s a great tool, it’s just not for me.
  • I started using plain text files for a lot of things. Check-lists, ideas, outlines and anything else that I needed to keep a note of.

After doing this I noticed a change. The number of places I need to check to find something was greatly reduced. I had a collection of files in my Dropbox that I used on a daily basis. Then there was my task manager, my reading list and a few boards on Trello. I didn’t have to search anywhere else beyond that. Then the number of tools I needed started to fall as well. I started uninstalling apps from my MacBook and cancelling some subscriptions.

It’s been a refreshing change. Gone are all the connected services and triggers I used and instead I have a low maintenance set of tools that I can use easily. I can find the data I need for easily and most importantly I do less moving about of data.

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The Compromise of Free Services

Free services are the most popular way to attract users, but what are you compromising on for this to happen?

The word ‘free’ is still a popular way for many online services to gain the users they need in order to start becoming more than just another blip on the Internet radar. With that enticing offer of being free, most people sign up, use the service and then decide if they want to keep using it or not. The pull of being free can be a powerful thing and like so many things people like it when they get something for free.

In the beginning users of the service are happy. They can’t believe their luck that this service is free and they can use it on a daily basis. They love the new service and sing its praises to their friends who in turn sign up as well. It is free after all. The trend continues and if the service is a hit it can eventually scale to becoming the next big thing.

After a few years, the service owners wants to start making some money, but they don’t want to charge their loyal users for the privilage of using their service. That would be a terrible idea. Instead the service owners decide to change some things about the way the service works. Maybe they limit the API, change a well liked feature to what the service owners think is better (for them anyway) or even just start throwing some ads in. That last one always works right?

Alas the loyal users of the service start to feel like they have been cheated and throw their arms up in the air in objection to the new changes the service are implementing. Just because they have been loyal to the service since its early days, it’s wrongly assumed that the service owners are going to listen to their users. Sadly they don’t. And then an amazing thing happens. Despite the drawbacks to using the service with the new changes they don’t approve of, the users decide to keep using the service. It’s not about free anymore though, it’s about the people your connected to using this service. How will you ever connect to these people without this service?

Clearly I’m taking a few examples from social networks like Twitter and Facebook, but the rules apply to any service that starts out being free and refuses to entertain the idea of a paid account or subscription. The rule is that in order to gain the user base you need to become a smash hit, you need to make your service free for everyone. You need to make it instantly attractive for people to use and that starts with giving it away for free.

It’s a plan that has been played out with many services now and while there have been successful exceptions to this (well done Trello), many free services stick to being free and then try to generate revenue by using brand advertising and promotion or selling data as a product to others.

It’s at this point where the idea of a free account is nothing more than a compromise. In exchange for using the service in question, you must be prepared to accept the changes to the service and continue using it as best as you can. You might not like the changes that the service are implementing but the decision to continue using it or leave the service is down to you. You’re the user after all.

This is the cost of many free services now. If they don’t require something back from you in return now, chances are they will in the future. It’s just a matter of deciding how much you’re willing to compromise on to continue using the service.

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The Daily Reading Ritual

It’s taken me a long time to find a habitual way of reading books that works for me. I call it the daily reading ritual.

When I first started my career in programming there was one titbit of advice that I had seen repeated over and over again.

Read a programming book every month.

I don’t know how many of you have read a programming book, but for those that don’t know they can be difficult to read. The trouble with programming books is that they are better used as reference books. Lookup material for when you’re stuck.

I tried the one book a month goal and I failed miserably. For the next few years I kept on trying but no matter what book it was I would either give up on it or still be reading it at the end of the month.

So how do you digest a programming book without it becoming a monotonous chore?

What I’ve found that works really well for me is that I take five non-fiction books (programming or otherwise) that I want to read and I read a chapter of each book on a specific weekday. At the moment Monday is a freelance and marketing book, Tuesday is a sketch noting book an so on. What this gives you is variety. Every day is different. It’s breaks the monotony barrier.

What about fiction books though?

Fiction books are easy to read because you usually have no idea what’s going to happen and it’s the authors job to send you to a place that’s not your usual environment. It’s a form of escapism.

I don’t set a time limit for these as it takes the enjoyment away from the book. Instead I try and read these books as often as I can. It’s usually at night when the kids are sleeping.

Since starting this ritual I’ve found it much easier to make progress on the books I’ve wanted to read. Not only that but I’ve also managed to set aside a few minutes in the morning for the non-fiction books and then at night I can plough through whatever fiction book I’m reading.

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10 Tips for Todoist

Todoist has been my choice of task management app for almost a year now. In that time I’ve learned a thing or two about it. Here are ten tips to help you get the most from it.

It worth noting that most of these tips can only be used with a premium subscription to Todoist. At just $29 (US) per year for a subscription to Todoist Premium, that’s less than the cost of a cup of coffee a month. Bargain if you ask me.

1. Archive Projects For Better Focus

While you might like to be organized by amassing a collection of tasks in a number of different projects, you probably won’t be able to work on all these projects at the same time. Not a problem. Simply create your project with its tasks and then archive it to work on it later. Archiving the project keeps it out of active tasks but also keeps it out of your focus.

The archive command can be found in the menu that appears when you hover over a project with your mouse and click the ellipsis on the right hand side of the highlighted section. At the bottom of the menu that appears you’ll find the archive command.

2. Create Linkable Tasks

Sometimes we would like to reference something online in a task. It might be support material for the task or a product relating to the task. How nice would it be to include that URL in your task? Well you can! Todoist uses the following syntax to include URLs in a task:

http://matthewlang.co.uk (Must hire this guy!)

This will create a nice clickable link in your task and will also hide that nasty long URL.

Bonus tip: As well has hyperlinks you can also include bold or italic text in your task!

3. Capture Tasks With Email

Todoist is available on lots of different devices and platforms. If you have a desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone then there’s a Todoist client made for it. What if you’re using a public computer to check your email and you’d rather not sign in to Todoist on it?

Tasks can easily be added to your projects and inbox by emailing the task to Todoist. For each inbox and project, there is a seperate email address that allows you to email tasks in. Simply send an email to the correct address that can be found in the tools section of the inbox or project, and use the subject as the name of your task. Hit send an it will be added to your list of tasks on Todoist.

To find out the email address for your inbox and projects, click on the tasks actions icon at the top right hand side of the list. On this menu you’ll find the Email tasks to this project command where it will show you the email address you should send your tasks too.

4. Location Based Reminders

Reminders are great for when we do things at a set time or date, but what if you’re running late? Instead of setting a reminder for a time or date, why not set a reminder for the general area that a task or project relates to?

Got a meeting with a client downtown at your favourite coffee place?. Set a reminder when you arrive at this location to get the coffees in before your client arrives. A nice way to start the meeting on a positive note!

Location based reminders can be found when you edit a task and hit the reminders icon. Simply flip the reminder from a date and time to a location and you’ll be able to the reminder for a location.

5. Backups for Accidents

Deleted a project by accident that contained a list of tasks you entered the day before? Don’t worry. Todoist’s premium plan backups up your entire to do list every day. Just download the latest backup of your list from Todoist and re-import that project to save yourself the time of creating it all over again.

Backups can be found in the settings section of Todoist under the Backups tab. A list of recent backups is always kept here.

6. Group similar labels by colour

Labels in Todoist are a great way to group tasks, but Todoist only offer so many colours to choose from. What if you run out of colours? Easy, group similar labels by a single colour so that not only do they give you more choice of colours, each label has a contextual colour that is easy to recognise.

7. Recurring Tasks Save Time

At the end of every month I invoice a single client for the work I did for the month. I’ve been doing this for over a year. Recently though I got fed up re-creating the same task in Todoist. Using Todoist’s ability to create recurring tasks, you can have the same task repeat at times that you need. No more re-creating the same task over and over again!

8. Start Projects Quickly with Templates

Starting a new project can involve setting the same tasks up as previous projects. Why bother creating the same tasks though? Templates are plain text files that contain tasks that you can import into a project as a template.

Templates can be created from existing projects or by creating them yourself in a plain text file.

9. Learn the Keyboard Shortcuts

Using the keyboard is a great time saver when you know the right keys to press. It’s the reason why us developers are the most productive people on the planet. Right, that’s not 100% true, but pressing keys can still be quicker than figeting with a mouse.

10. Reviews Projects and Labels with the Visualiser

When you view your Karma score there’s a link to viewing all the completed tasks you have done. When you click this you can analyse how many tasks you have completed over a period of time for a project or label. This is great to use for reviewing your progress on a project.

There we have it. Ten tips for Todoist. Now go forth and be productive!

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How I Use Filters in Todoist

Last week we looked at labels in Todoist and how they provide context to your tasks. This week we’re going to look at how I use Todoist’s filter feature.

Before we talk about filters, let’s just recap how we can already group tasks in Todoist. The first is by assigning tasks to a project. This is ideal for tasks we know that belong in a specific place. The second is by using labels which are more of a form of tagging in Todoist. You can label tasks across different projects thereby bringing similar tasks together.

Filters in Todoist are similar to labels but they can bring together more tasks depending on your filter. A filter in Todoist is a search term that matches tasks and can then be saved for future use. The benefit here is that filters allow you to bring similar tasks together rather than focusing on tasks from a single project or label. Combining dates, labels and some boolean logic allows us to filter for specific tasks and labels to give us a list of tasks that are suitable to our location and environment.

Here’s a few ideas for filters that I am using at the moment:

Low Hanging Fruit

Filter: "(@Low & @5mins) !@Errands"

I use this all tasks labelled with these and complete when I’m stuck for something to do.

Errands & Emails

Filter: "@Errands | (@Email & @Low)"

I sometimes opt for public transport when I need to head into town to run some errands. It’s good, as it gives me a chance to walk to the bus stop and get some air, but also there’s 10 minutes on the bus where I can carry out some email tasks before getting into town to do some errands. This filter is great for those tasks when you’re out and about.

Upcoming Posts

Filter: "14days & @writing"

I’ve started scheduling blog posts into specific days so that I’m keeping my writing varied. Rather than using a calendar though I find it easier to put due dates against the tasks in my writing list and then tag them with @writing. Combining this with the 14 days term and I can get a list of blog posts I’ve got scheduled for the next two weeks. If there’s any gaps I can pull an idea in and schedule it with a date.

Filters are one feature that set Todoist apart from other to do list applications. Using filters you can build custom lists that are more than just a single project or label. You can build lists that can be done in certain locations or at specific parts of the day, thereby making yourself a little bit more productive. It’s worth noting that filters using a boolean operator is only included in Todoist’s premium subscription.

That’s it then for Todoist. This is the final post in this series. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I have writing it. If you’ve any questions about Todoist then I suggest you check out their help and support sites which are full of help and advice.

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How I Use Labels In Todoist

I’ve already mentioned how I use projects in Todoist. Well this time it’s the turn of the humble label.

The label. This is Todoist’s context tag that can be applied to any task if you need to organise them by more than just their priority. Let’s get something clear before we start. Colour coded labels are a premium feature in Todoist. If you’re using the free plan on Todoist, you can still use the labels suggested below but not the label colours.

Having decided that tagging tasks with labels would give me more flexibility I started tagging everything in my list with labels. It quickly turned into a nightmare with inconsistent labels, labels with typos and even obscure labels that didn’t end up making sense to have. I needed a strategy, so I took the advice of Mike Vardy and started using labels in a more structured manner.

Looking at the range of colours available I started to setup label groups by colour. First off I created six labels for my six personal compass points giving each compass point its own colour. This is the basic categorisation of labels regardless of where they are in Todoist. Almost all tasks get labelled with a compass point.

Next I took the groups that Mike Vardy suggested. Using the colours for these labels I grouped them under time, event, person, location and energy. What I eventually ended up with was a wide range of labels for different contexts as well as having a couple of free colours left over that allowed me to have labels that could be used for general purposes.

Labels are also useful with Todoist’s email feature. As well as emailing tasks to your inbox, you can append labels in the subject or the body of the email and they will be added to your task when Todoist receives it.

So what’s the point of labelling everything then?

Well, aside from the fact that it provides some meta-information on the task, it also allows you to search for related tasks. Do you want some low hanging fruit to pick in the morning? Search for the @5mins and @low labels. Kids birthday coming up and you remember taking a note of their preference for a Minecraft book. Search for @birthdays and your kids owns tag using their initials.

You can search for individual tags, combination of tags, tags in a project, tags due on a specific day. There are lots of possibilites to using this and Todoist keeps a nice count of how many times each label has been used so that you can weed out the ones that are unused or break down a label if it’s being overused.

All this now means that I can quickly filter and sort my master list according to labels that provide context. This leads on to next week’s post about filters. Be sure to check back for this and see how you can utilise labels to group tasks together using filters.

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Getting the Most from Feedbin

There’s been a lot of talk over the last couple of years that RSS is dead and it certainly didn’t look good when Google closed their RSS reading service, Google Reader. Since the news that it was closing though there has been a number of new RSS services that aim to fill the gap. Having tried a couple I evetually choose Feedbin. It looked promising from the start and I’m glad to see that today it has grown into an amazing application and makes managing and reading your RSS feeds easy.

Over the course of the last year or two, Feedbin has added a number of great features to the service. I thought I would round up some of my favourite features that I use daily to manage my RSS feeds.

Time To Unsubscribe?

One of the problems I had with Google Reader was that it was difficult to see when a feed was last updated and how active it was. Overtime people lose interest in keeping their site updated so eventually feeds start to stagnate. It was hard to see this in Google Reader. Unless you were aware of the decline in posts, which is easy if you only follow so many accounts, there wasn’t a way to check your feeds to see which were active and in-active.

Feedbin solves this problem on the feeds page of your account. Not only can you search and unsubscribe from feeds, you can also sort them according to when they were last updated and also how active the feed is. This makes it easy to spot the sites that are slowing down in posting and might be worth unsubscribing from.

Showing the feed activity on Feedbin

Take A Shortcut

Google Reader had a great set of keyboard shortcuts. I even created a mind map for the shortcuts to help me memorise them. They were essential in allowing me to quickly scan through all my feeds and mark those that were worth reading later on in the day. You’ll be glad to hear then that Feedbin also has a great collection of keyboard shortcuts at your disposal. With these you can navigate around your feeds, search, action articles and even share them to your own connected services such as App.net and Twitter.

If you’re not a software developer then you might be more familiar with using the mouse when it comes to navigating your applications. For applications such as Feedbin, I say give the keyboard a try. While you might hit a few stumbling blocks at the start, trying to remember what key does what, keep at it. Using the keyboard is a much faster way of interacting with the computer and the keyboard shortcuts for Feedbin are minimal. There are only 20 sets of shortcuts to remember with most of them being a single key, but even learning just a quarter of these will make such a difference. And the best part, just press ‘?’ on your keyboard while using Feedbin and it will display all the shortcuts you need.

Action!

One of my early gripes with Google Reader was the lack of automation. Some feeds I subscribed too always needed a specific action or used for logging purposes. For these feeds I wanted them starred or marked as read as soon as they came in. In Google Reader this wasn’t possible, but it can be in Feedbin.

Feedbin has a section in the setting page called Actions. Here you can define actions that meet one or multiple feeds. The two actions available are starring an article or marking an article as read. There might be more in the future but for now these make automating the management of your feeds a lot easier. Why would you do this though?

Showing the actions for Feedbin

Some feeds are always interesting. I subscribe to the Caesura Letters newsletter through an RSS feed. I star the article every day so that I can find it at lunchtime for further reading. It’s one less action to do on a daily basis but it still saves a bit of time.

Searching your RSS feeds is a routine thing for me. Maybe I’m looking for a specific set of articles or articles that feature a specific keyword. What happens though when you want to do that search over and over again? Well you save it!

Feedbin has a great feature called saved searches that lets you save the searches you carry out over your feeds. These appear in your sidebar with the search icon beside them so that you can differentiate them from the rest of your feeds. One saved search I have is my ‘Recently Mentioned’ search.

Showing my saved search from Feedbin

I follow a number of blogs that are part of an relaxed circle of bloggers. We link to each other’s posts for other people to see. It’s not a traffic building thing, we just link the stuff we find interesting from each other on our blogs. I was getting mentioned a few times when I thought about having a search for this. With my saved search now, I can see when I was last mentioned. You might call it an ego thing, but I prefer to think of it as a validation tool to see what people find interesting. It helps to find out what people link to on my blog and whether I should publish similar content.

Use Your Favourite Reading App

Feedbin also has an API that allows other apps to connect to Feedbin. While Feedbin excels as a great application on the big screen of a desktop, laptop and tablet, I find the mobile interface not that easy to use for scanning feeds. My app of choice for checking my feeds on my iPhone is the wonderful Unread by Jared Sinclair. With simple gestures for quickly scanning and actioning articles, it is by far the best app I have found yet that connects to my Feedbin account.

Feedbin is a great RSS reader and I use it daily, often multiple times a day. The best part of Feedbin though is the automation. The actions and sharing to your favourite services are the best time savers for me. With feeds handled automatically in the background and one key press to share to other services like Instapaper, I can breeze through hundreds of articles on a daily basis.

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Small Is Good

Twitter and Facebook are huge in terms of the number of users they have, but is this always a good thing?

Not a week goes by where I’m reminded of the popularity of social networks. Whenever there’s a global event happening, you can be sure that there will be lots of updates about it. Not only that but when you turn on the television now every company and brand has a related Facebook page or a Twitter account. Twitter and Facebook are everywhere. It seems that everyone is on one or the other. Well okay, not quite everyone but it’s safe to say that most are.

Last night was the opening night of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Aside from the first part of the opening ceremony with the giant dancing Tunnocks teacakes, it went fairly well. Like most big events I wondered if anyone was talking about it on App.net. I fired open my App.net client to check. No one had mentioned it. Not one post. Up until the first hour I don’t think there was a single post about it. I breathed a sigh relief.

Why the relief? Well there was no negative comments, bitching or snide remarks. You didn’t have to cut through the negativity. In this case you didn’t have to cut through anything at all. It was refreshing to not have to filter through people’s views, posts, pictures and other stuff.

And that’s what I love about App.net. It’s a small community of people. Okay it might not have the millions of users that other social networks has but if the people in your timeline are not sharing in the same event as yourself then it’s okay. They might just be doing something else that matters to them. It’s a nice reminder that despite what happening around your part of the world, there’s other things happening around the rest of the world too.

If App.net continues to gain users at a slower rate than other networks then that’s okay. As long as it remains profitable and continues to serve it’s users I’ll keep on calling it my little part of the social internet.

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Mastery takes time

Yesterday I mentioned I was embarking on a last attempt to master a different text editor. If I’m to succeed at this, then one truth I must face is that this will take time, just like mastering any new skill does.

I always find that learning something new starts out to be fun. I have a clear goal in mind of what I want the end goal to be and with that in mind I start. Whether it’s a new programming language or an application, those first few days are where my positiveness is at a high. After a few days though, the stumbling blocks kick in. I don’t feel as productive as I did before. Even though I know I’m in unfamilair terroritory, I start to wonder if this is in fact the right time to be learning something new. A few days further on and I’ve only mastered a small subset of this new topic or skill. Questioning myself again, I throw in the towel and abandon the learning process. I’ve done this so many times in the past.

The recurring mistake I’ve made in the past is forgetting that learning takes time. Mastery takes even longer.

For the moment I’m content to simply learn Vim. This means getting to a stage where for most of my day I can write and manipulate code without resorting to looking up keyboard shortcuts. Finding files, finding text in files, managing files in different panes, navigating a file, search and replacing within a file and basic text manipulation represent groups of keyboard shortcuts that I need to learn in order to use Vim effectively. I’ve given myself a month to learn most of these shortcuts. After a month I should be able to assess what I can and can’t do in Vim. For all the things I can’t do, these will become the focus for the next month of using Vim. Repeating this process for six months will evenutally get me to the place where I want to be. To have mastered Vim.

Learning can take hours or days, but true mastery can take weeks, months, even years depending on what you want to master. This is the key to successful learning and mastery, you need to put the time in.

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Rebooting

Yesterday I wrote about coasting along. Good for when you’re driving and taking in the good views, but when you’re coasting for everything you do, you’re just ticking the boxes. Today marks the first day of a reboot to purge this nasty habit.

If only everything was as easy to fix as a reboot. Got problems with your computer? Reboot and try again. It’s amazing how often this works. I’m not technical support person, but the amount of times I’ve given technical support to family and it was simply a matter of rebooting their PC is astounding. It’s not this easy for everything though.

Rebooting yourself takes a bit more thought, a bit more time. Let’s face it, we’re complicated entities. Our brains have the accrued knowledge and memories of a whole lifetime. We have habits, whether good or bad, engrained in us. How we approach problems and solve them is different for others. This rebooting lark then is going to take some time then. I’m not expecting a change overnight, but I am expecting to see good results as each day comes. I’m not trying to achieve everything on day one, just making sure that for each day, I’ve made a positive change to how I work and what I do.

This is the first day of the reboot. So where do I begin? Well, this morning I decided to ditch the MacBook and went out for a cycle. I haven’t done this as much as I would like to, as I like to use the Friday to catch up on a few things. Those things can wait though. This morning I just wanted to clear my head and start again. I put on my bike gear, grabbed the bike, walked my oldest son to school and then headed out.

The west of Scotland is having a period of sunny weather so it could not be a better time to head out. As it was the morning, the heat hadn’t reached it peak and the trails were great. Dry hardpacked roads mixed with some dry grassy paths further up. The descent back down was even better.

The bike ride was good. It gives me a chance to clear my head which is something I wasn’t doing often enough. Using the Friday morning for a bike ride, even if it’s just 90 minutes is a good use of time. Everyone knows that exercise is important but what’s also important is the chance to leave a few things behind. The feeds, the timelines, the inboxes, the emails, the messages, the tasks. They can wait. They’ll still be there when we get back. The difference now is that with a clear head I might be in a better frame of mind to take a few of these on. And that’s a good starting point I think for the rebooting process to begin.

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Still There

Last night I took my oldest son to his coaching at the golf club. He had a great time. Chatting with his new friend, hitting some balls on the practice ground and getting some tips from the club’s new professional. I sat and watched him from the clubhouse, just making sure that he was keeping his focus for most of the session. At the end I met him on the practice ground, grabbed his bag and shoes and we headed home to catch the opening game of the World Cup. The conversation in the car comprised of who was playing in the football, the plans for a golf compeition on Sunday and the many epic shots that my son said he hit. A good night.

This week hasn’t always been this good though. I now understand why my parents frequently referred to themselves as being ‘broken down record players’. I finally get it. It’s just taken me to having a kid of my own to understand. Every day this week, my son has got himself into trouble for the stupidest of things. It’s been a frustrating week. It’s at the stage where you continually repeat yourself. My son does listen. I know he does, but in between him thinking about golf, football, food, gaming and getting outside, there’s only a small window of opportunity for the message to get through. I feel like I’m on repeat. I shouldn’t be too hard on him though. I was reminded yesterday thay I’m fortunate that I see him every day.

Last night I read about the sad news of Eric Meyer’s daughter, Rebecca. For those that don’t know Eric, he’s a noted expert in HTML and CSS. Eric is a respected member of the web community and many developers and designers are familiar with his work and contributions since the early days of the Internet.

Eric’s daughter passed away last week after a long fight against cancer. Yesterday was her funeral service. Eric has been writing about Rebecca’s progress on his blog. Reading his ‘Never’ post was especially difficult and put things into perspective. They are beautiful words for tragic circumstances. That’s the only way I can describe it. If you’ve got a few minutes I suggest you go and read it.

I started to think about my own kids. Their future is a mix of maybes, possibilities, and definites. A lot can happen, more to the point a lot will happen. For the many times that they get into trouble, do the wrong thing or play up, they’re still healthy kids and they have the rest of their lives ahead of them. As parents with kids or even as guardians to the kids in your life, we might not appreciate seeing these them grow up and the experiences they will go through.

That’s all been taken from Rebecca’s family. The chance to see her grow and all the experiences that she would have gone through in her life. I sincerely hope that the Meyer’s find some peace in the future. I can’t begin to imagine what they are going through but it’s something that no parent should experience. We take it for granted that our time will come before our kids, but that’s not alway the case though. Next time I get frustrated about repeating myself to them, I should remember that they’re still there in front of me, even if they are continually getting into trouble.

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Daily routines

The last two months have been something of a blur. Client work has taken up most of my day now and even into the night as well when I shouldn’t really be working. A pattern, or lack of pattern has emerged.

It started a couple of months when I decided to scale back on my daily writing. I thought that not writing as much would let me focus on getting other chores and such done. Truth is, it was the start of a slow decline in what I had carefully built up over the best part of a year. The daily routine.

My work day pretty much had the same format for the most of last year and it worked for me. I had the same routine in the morning for preparing for the day ahead and the same routine at night for reviewing the day. It worked for me.

Once I stopped writing on a daily basis though the routines started to be skipped, and then the calendar was running empty, the task list built up and before you know it, my daily routine consisted of nothing more than simply putting out fires. I’ve been in that place before and it wasn’t a good place to be.

I ended up reacting to problems rather than anticipating problems and setting time aside for them. I was context switching multiple times a day and losing focus. My inboxes and lists were stradily climbing with not view of the bottom of them.

No more. The routines are back in place, the daily writing will be started again and a plan of attack has been formalised. Let’s see where this goes.

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Breaking Habits for the Best

Even the best kept habits require a break. Regardless of how well you think it’s working for you as a habit, it’s only when you step back from it, breaking the habit, that you can see the true impact and value of it.

If you’re like me, you’ll have tried to introduce hundreds of habits in an effort to improve your health, your career, your finances or even your relationships with people. For me some of them have truly stuck over the years. Keeping a journal is one of them and something I do on an almost daily basis. Whether it’s a family event, work or even a thought, it gets written down and saved for a future review or reflection. It took me a number of months to get this habit down on a daily basis and while I can see the benefit of it, I’ve never taken a break from it.

Last week though I decided to drop the journal tools for a few days and just enjoy the time off I had with the family. It was a real eye opener. In that time I realized that although keeping a journal is a good thing for posterity and also for remembering where I was with some work, I was missing something.

Looking back at my journal entries over the years and months, there has been a subtle trend in my journal entries. In the past I would journal once a day with a review of the day, now though I’m logging journal entries multiple times a day. Whenever I complete a bit of work, whenever I have the inkling of an idea, or even when a link catches my eye but I want don’t want to just read it later, I want to read it from a particular angle. Every day I’m working I’m writing multiple journal entries as I’m working. When the weekend rolls around, the context of my journal switches and I focus on one entry for the weekend if I did something with the family that was fun.

Before I didn’t recognize the pattern of my journal activities and how I was switching between work and family journals. Having stepped back from the habit of keeping multiple journals, I can see that the shift in change is better for me. When I read the last month’s worth of entries I found it so much easier to read the frequent updates per day rather than the single monolithic update done on a daily basis.

I also realized something else. I put too much emphasis on writing a journal entry every day when it wasn’t necessary. Having not kept a journal for the best part of a week, I can see that it’s okay to miss a few days here and there. It’s taken a break in my habits to see the true value I’m getting from keeping a journal.

Sometimes we end up switching to automatic-pilot when we habituate processes that we think will make us better people. Truth is though, we need time away, a holiday from these habits so that we can properly evaluate and review their value. Only when we can do this can we see how that habit is truly working for us.

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Software Isn't for Life

Software is a form of product that will deteriorate and expire with time. With this in mind, how easy would it be for you to switch software from your preferred tools set to a new one?

I try and not be too dependent on the software that I use on a daily basis. I do have a favourite set of tools that I use but I’m always conscious of the fact that whatever I’m using might not be around tomorrow.

Take for instance my to do list. I’ve been using Todoist for some time now. What would happen if Todoist stopped trading next month? Or even next week? Barring a natural disaster, I’m pretty confident that most services, including Todoist, will allow a small window of time for you to transfer your data across to another application of your choice before that company closes down.

The good thing about software as a product is that there’s plenty of it. We’re spoiled for choice when it comes to software and with the now common place app stores from various technology companies, there’s an app store for most major hardware platforms.

What happens though when software becomes a dependency?

I’ve heard many people say that their preferred software product for a particular task is ‘X’ and that they just couldn’t do their job without it. Perhaps that’s true if you’re in a specialist job working on the next wave of new technology and innovation, but for most of us this just shouldn’t be the case. We should not be dependent on just one particular brand of software to get the job done. If you’re so dependent on one particular software product then I’d say that you’re narrowing your choices down too much.

The text editor is my daily tool for writing and cutting code. My preferred text editor is Sublime Text, but for any reason that Sublime Text was to stop being supported or even cease to exist, then what’s my options?

We’ll I’ve played with Vim enough over the years to make the jump to that, and there’s a number of other text editors that I could pick up like Chocolat that would do the job just fine. Yes, I may have invested a considerable amount of time getting to know the shortcuts keys of Sublime Text but if I had to then I would comfortable picking up something else. We should always have options to fall back on for the selected tools that we use on a daily basis. In most cases this second set of software might be products we’ve tried in the past or something that we previously have experience with.

Investing time and effort into a particular software product is fine if it’s something that you will use on a daily basis for about 8 hours a day, but anything else is simply a product or tool that could be replaced with alternatives already on the market or a custom made option if needed. Software isn’t for life, it’s simply a temporary means to an end until we find something better that works for us. With this in mind, are you to dependent on the software you use?

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The Limits of Automation

The other day I experienced the limits of what automation can deliver and realized that not all tasks are best done in an automated fashion. Some tasks need that manual touch to get done properly.

At the start of the I got back on the writing bandwagon and published another of my muddled thoughts a couple of days ago. Being a lazy guy, I have App.net’s Broadcast setup that takes my daily posts from the RSS feed and publishes them to App.net and to my email subscribers. One of the reasons I done this is that I would ordinarily forget to do it.

This morning I had the realization that I might just be missing an opportunity here. Automating this sharing process from blog to you the reader is all well and good, but what if at an earlier point I could let you decide whether you want to read this post or not?

A couple of weeks ago I started adding a summary to the beginning of each post. In it I try and condense the gist of the post into a couple of lines. If it’s not for you, you can move on, if you’re interested then you keep on reading.

There was another couple of places though where I could be doing this, and that’s in the original broadcast message and the post to my timeline on App.net. I turned off the automatic posting and sharing of my blog and instead opted to use the intro to the blog post as a brief description on the broadcast. The post which was originally sent to my timeline, doesn’t include the intro and it uses a shortened URL which I don’t want. So as well as using the intro on the new broadcast, I’ll rewrite the intro as a condensed version for posting to my timeline on App.net. I’ll do both of these tasks myself rather than relying on the automation tools to do it for me.

Automation is great for when it’s mundane tasks that can be repeated over and over without interruption, but when we want to tailor that task each time it happens, we need to step in and do the work ourselves. It’s not a bad thing either. Now I get the chance to tweak the broadcast and post in the hopes that I can encourage you to keep reading as well as reaching out to more people.

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To Kill a Project

Stopping a project isn’t easy to do, especially when that project is based on an idea that seemed to be within your grasp. Sometimes though it’s the best thing to do, but to ensure it’s dead we need to kill the project.

I had an idea a few months ago for a service for users of App.net. It was a service that curated the most interesting or popular posts from your timeline when you weren’t there to check it. For the most part this could be when you’re in bed or at work. So if you wanted to see the best posts from your timeline in terms of highest replies or stars, it would filter out the best posts for you and email them to you in a summary on a daily basis.

I’ve spoke to a couple of people on App.net about the idea and they were favourable of the idea. After months of incubating the idea though I want to abandon the idea. I never wrote any code for it, registered any domains or even tested the idea. The idea might be a success, but given that the number of users on App.net isn’t as much as Twitter, I’m making an educated guess that it won’t be profitable as a service. I want it off my radar for good. It’s too distracting having it sitting in my master list thinking I might do it one day.

I’m killing the project then. I’m not abandoning it, deleting it or putting it off. I’m killing it. Permanently.

With this action comes a sense of relief. No longer will it sit on my radar demanding another few minutes of contemplation. I can get rid of it permanently.

I’ve only done this a few times in the past and each time it was necessary to simply kill the project. For as long as it remains in a list or in your head, you’ll always spend a bit of time thinking that you’ll get round to it.

The first time I did this was when I killed my mind mapping blog, MindMapSwitch. I had gave up writing about mind mapping but I left the blog itself up in the hopes that one day I might go back and write about it. I didn’t. In fact for about two years it just sat there as another dead blog on the internet. A couple of years ago I decided that the blog had to go. No longer would I need to the account to keep it running. I wouldn’t be writing on that blog ever again. So I took it down. Gone was all the work that I put into it, but despite that, I felt great about the decision. Another little project that has been sitting on my radar is now gone forever. I don’t need to worry about it, spend time on it or even get it started. It’s gone for good.

That’s why it necessary to kill a project. There’s no sense in having a project or an idea sitting there on the shelf gathering dust. Yes, one day you might get round to it, but chances are you won’t. Better to kill the project and move on then have it pecking away at your conscience. Once you’ve killed that project you’ll feel a weight off your shoulders and you’ll have rid yourself of a commitment.

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Balance

Balance isn’t something that comes up a lot when people are writing about productivity. Once you are aware of it though, it’s a fundamental lesson to learn if you want keep focused and make progress.

I’m like a kid in a candy shop when I have a new idea. I tend to drop just about everything I’m working on new idea for a night or two and then get back to what I was doing before. Not a good practice to follow. When you stop working on something else and spend some time with an idea, it can take over. The idea snowballs and then before you know it, you’ve grand plans for it and it overtakes everything else you are doing. Inevitably my workload becomes so much that I need to try and prioritise and sort my work into a schedule that can’t feasibly accommodate this new idea. What to do?

Well the answer is simple. From now on for every project I take on I need to drop something else. Realistically I can only manage one side project at a time on top of freelancing and family life. When I take on too much everything else suffers. It’s a balancing act.

The monthly themes I am doing just now are good for balancing work as it means that in one month I can focus on a single idea or product for that time. Since the start of the year I’ve used broad themes to cover everything but this month I’ll be focusing on a specific project. It’s the first of four projects that I’ll be working on this year. The goal is to clear the backlog of tasks for that project so that it can be left alone for another few months while I bring another few projects along.

This also means that I can schedule these ideas into the year so that I know what work lies ahead in my schedule. Not only is this good for scheduling purposes but the idea also gets a chance to incubate for a few weeks or months before I start on it. By then I might have discounted the idea will then pick something else to work on.

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Writing Takes Time

When I first started blogging I thought I could simply keep on writing and the ideas would come. For a while they did and I would keep future ideas on a backlog so that I could return to them another day. Now though it seems that those ideas are not coming as fast as they did in the past. It took me a while to realise what the problem was.

My problem was that I set myself the goal of publishing more often than I could write. Yes I could publish small posts that required little effort but is that what I want to do? Minimum effort? I won’t learn anything from just simply firing out a barrage of poorly written blog posts.

What I want to do is improve my writing. That means spending more time writing, editing and proof reading. I want to review my writing a few times to ensure that I am completely happy with it. This takes time, not a lot of time but definitely more than the time it takes me to write a small blog post.

Writing takes time. Good writing I mean. The kind of writing where you write a draft more than once. You sweat over the little things like word choice and grammar. You spend time on each paragraph, sentence or even word.

Writing does take time, but the rewards of better writing far out weigh that of those hasty blog posts that I used to write. It’s taken me a while to learn this but it’s came at a good time. I’m hoping that this is a time where I can improve on my writing over the next few months.

We’ll just need to wait and see.

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Five Dollar Value

Three pounds got me a tea and hot roll this morning from my local cafe. A pot of tea which should give me three decent cups of tea and a toasted flatbread with sausage. A little bit upmarket when you consider this is a cafe in the West of Scotland but also good value when you consider that it’s not your usual greasy spoon morning roll with a slice of cheap meat thrown in. Good value I think you would agree. I get enough fuel to see me through to lunchtime and enough tea to keep me working for at least two hours.

What about value on the Internet though? What determines value in the products and services that we buy but are nothing more than bytes that exist in the Internet?

Five dollars is a common price point for many products and services. Evernote offers extra bandwidth for synchronising data for this amount, Github offers a private repository for the same amount and you can follow more people on App.net for, yes you guessed it, five dollars. It’s a common price for many services but the variety of value differs from product to product.

There is a trend on the Internet when it comes to services and value. The older the service, the more value you get. It’s not true in every case, but it’s certainly applicable to many.

Take Evernote for example. Back when I first took an Evernote subscription the added value I got from it was mainly their offline notebooks and extra bandwidth for synchronising my data contained in Evernote. Now though, Evernote offers collaboration, extra security, presentation and even other premium features from their other apps. Good value if you use these on a monthly basis.

Let’s look at App.net now. Out of the box a free account gives you great value including the ability to use their Passport application and follow up to 40 people. On top of that you get 500MB of storage on their platform. For an extra five dollars a month you can follow as many people as you like and also get an extra 500MB of storage taking you to 1GB. Right okay, not the range of extra value that Evernote offers but it is value. App.net is young though and in time they may offer more to its paying customers to encourage free customers to upgrade.

The trouble with comparing these services and more is that there’s usually only a handful of great services in each market. Comparing services from different markets isn’t going to work. It’s not fair to say that Evernote offers more value than App.net but in terms of a basic feature count, yes it offers more, but it depends on person to person what features they use.

For many of us that use the Internet on a daily basis though, we live in a time where five dollars is nothing. It’s a fancy coffee or even breakfast. I don’t think five dollars to me is a lot of money to pay for a serivce online for a month. Even the most basic service is worth paying for.

If it provides value to you as a consumer then why not?

What’s the minimum you would pay for extra features and value from a service?

Also does that price change depending on the important of the service you are using. Would a service critical to your business warrant a larger minimum price so that it continues to support your business?

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Project Retrospectives

I’m coming to the end of a project with a client. In the past I would have made sure the client was happy, closed the project off and collected the rest of my fee for the work. So would many freelancers. The work is done, you’re done. Right? Maybe not.

Over the last few months a number of projects have been started and finished with the same client. This has led to a familiarity that is great for day to day communication, but as a working team we have become complacent in the work we are doing and there is clearly room for improvement in how we work together to finish each project.

In an agile team, frequent retrospectives are used to find out what’s working for the team, what isn’t and areas where the team can improve. It’s a time of reflection. As part of a my pledge to deliver a professional service, I’m am now going to give a retrospective for each project that I finish with a client.

Essentially it’s a report of three areas. Developers will recognize the questions as they are the same questions asked when an agile team gets together for their own retrospective. So why not apply the same idea to client work as well?

1. Where did we go wrong?

Admitting where a project went wrong can be difficult for all concerned. It’s not a finger-pointing exercise though. If you think I’m picking at your faults, then you’re probably not the type of client I want to work with. We’re simply trying to isolate the problems areas so that we can change them for the better.

2. Where did we do well?

Highlighting where a project went well is important for any future work I do with a client. This is often over looked and we should never just think the work that is done on time and within budget is okay. If work is carried out within these constraints, then recognising that success is a great area to start for future projects. I want to build on a set of good practices that we both recognise so that future projects become easier to do.

3. Where could we improve?

We found out where we went wrong from the first question, but is there something we can do to fix this for future projects? If we are to continue working together, then it would benefit everyone if we could gradually improve on projects in the past. Less bumps on the road means projects can be finished to a higher quality, on schedule and with-in our agreed budget. Who doesn’t want to work like that?

I have a first retrospective coming up in the next couple of weeks, and I’ve already collected a number of different observations from the project where both myself and the client could improve. Not all clients will be happy to read the retrospective or even take any advice from it. That’s okay, it’s their choice. For those clients that want to improve on future projects when working with me, I’ll be more than happy to help them resolve problems from the retrospective and suggest recommendations for future projects with them.

The project doesn’t end with the last commit or deploy, it ends when I’ve exceeded the expectations of the client and helped them get the most from our time together working on a project.

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Plain Text Data Please

Being a fan of plain text files means that I am particularly picky about the services and tools that I sign up for. A service could have all the killer features that I need but if it can be made simpler by some scripting and text file, then I’ll opt for that instead.

It all about data access. If I can access my data that your service stores and export it to something else, without too much fuss might I add, then I’m already going to like your service.

Todoist are an example of a good service in my eyes. I have their app on my iPhone and MacBook and I use it daily. It’s a great service for managing your to do lists. The export facility though is a winner for me though. It does backups of all your to do lists on a regular basis for you. These backups can be downloaded (or exported if you want) to your computer. When you open them, the backup consists of a text file for each list with all your to dos listed in simple plain text.

At the other side, there are two types of services you need to watch for if access to plain text data is your key concern.

1. Services that don’t allow access to your data.

These services are thankfully becoming less frequent now thanks to the fact that of those services that don’t allow access to your data, there are some where you can at least access it through an API. Although this is only of benefit to developers, it does mean that with a little scripting you can grab your data and save it to a format that makes it easier for you to use.

The last time I checked, Path still doesn’t allow access to your data in any kind of format and their API isn’t published either which makes getting your data out and onto another network or journaling app much more of a manual process.

2. Services that allow access to your data but in a format other than plain text.

When I say a service uses something other than plain text, what I mean is that the format that they export to might be readable by any text editor but could be in a less friendly format like XML.

This is definitely down to personal choice and experience, but I am more comfortable working with JSON files than I am with a format like XML.

I use Evernote a lot now. Mostly for my freelancing work. When I exported some notes I created as part of my evaluation of it, I found that the notes were exported to a format of XML. Not user friendly at all if you don’t have any experience with programming and you want to take these notes to another package.

Thankfully though Evernote does export to HTML which is far easier to read and while the HTML can’t be imported back into Evernote should you need to, HTML is easier for reading your notes into another service.

This is the best of example I have of a service that exported to an unfriendly format. The reason why I still stuck with Evernote was that I can export the notes to HTML which is easier for me to script than XML.

Plain Text Please

If a service exported to anything more complicated than flat file with XML based markup then I wouldn’t use that service. It’s just a matter of having my data accessible in a format that doesn’t inconvenience me.

Data access is a key criteria for me when assessing services that I want to use. My data should be accessible and ideally in a format that doesn’t need a programmer to make sense of. Plain text formats win in this aspect due to their instant readability. Everything else is just a hindrance in my eyes.

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