Posts Tagged “posts-tag”

Benefiting from the Constraints of Pen and Paper to Tame Tasks

In the last 18 months, I’ve moved from using a task manager application to using pen and notebook and a technique called bullet journaling. The transition to this method hasn’t been without its challenges, but there’s one thing that it provides that I don’t get with any task manager application that I’ve used. And that is constraints.

Task management applications like to sell lots of benefits like being able to go with me wherever I go, work wherever I am and manage anything I throw at it. That last advantage is quite interesting because it’s here that I find that task management applications work quite well for me for a while, but I usually end up over-committing with a crazy list of tasks sometimes running into hundreds.

Thanks to improvements in technology, we have these little portable devices in our pockets that can potentially hold thousands (perhaps even millions) of tasks. These same devices also make it simple to add more tasks with the ability to type, speak or automate the process of creating new tasks. There are very few constraints in creating new tasks other than perhaps losing the wi-fi signal or running out of battery. These are not big constraints given that the world is more connected than ever and we have portable chargers to keep our devices topped up.

I keep all my tasks together at the back of my notebook. Written by hand and double-spaced. Sounds labourious right? Bear with me.

With each new task added, I often find myself questioning the value of the task and whether it is even worth writing down. I also look at the number of tasks I have decided if I need to focus on those first before adding anything else.

When it comes to moving tasks from one page to another, again I question the value of the task and whether it is worth moving.

My master list of tasks is usually about three pages long. Take into account that the notebook is smaller than A4 and my writing is double-spaced, that’s not a lot of tasks to do. The constraints of time to write a task and the effort in maintaining it when using paper mean that my complete list of tasks is manageable.

You can enforce these constraints on your favourite task management application, but I’ve often found that this is difficult to do given how easy to use these types of applications are.

Now, I’m not saying that bullet journaling is the silver bullet solution to all productivity hacks; it isn’t. However, the constraints of notebooks are why I find that bullet journaling works so well. It allows me to manage a smaller and more focused list of tasks and that in turns stops me from over-committing.

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My Three Words for 2018

I’ve already written about how I use habits rather than resolutions for the year. Resolutions are doomed to fail, but practices can be iteratively built on over the year and eventually form a set of good habits.

How do you stay focused on these habits though?

Well, one way I’ve been able to build on these habits over the last couple of years is using Chris Brogan’s three words. It’s a simple idea.

You pick three words for that will guide your actions through the year. Through the course of the year, your efforts should align with these three words so that anything that you do is working towards them. The words themselves are goals, but not specific ones. Just parts of your life that you want to make better.

Last year my words were habit, health and hustle. I’m chuffed to say that at the end of 2017 I had lost a bit of weight and I’m now more active through the work week to stop myself getting any more back pain.

This year’s words are less of a focus on health and work and more about content and delivery.

Bootstrap - For too long I’ve had a little email product running that has been running quietly in the background. It’s time to bring it to the masses and bootstrap it from being merely just a product that people use to one that people rave about. Of course, I’m talking about DailyMuse. I want to expand this product so that it becomes more of a featured revenue stream than something I merely allow to run. DailyMuse isn’t the only product in the pipeline though. I’m intrigued about a numberless analytics idea, and I’m interested in exploring a niche market for my web development skills that could help end the feast and famine cycle that is always at the back of my mind as a freelancer.

Blog - I remember the great days of blogging every day. It didn’t matter what day it was. I punted something out anyway. This single word over the last two weeks has prompted me to write and publish more often already this month and look set to complete one week with a post a day.

Budget - When it comes to time, we only have so much of it. For 2018 I want to budget my time and energy through the week so that I’m not idling away my time in front of the television or on my phone. This isn’t a call to budget every minute of every day. Scheduling my day in this way doesn’t work for me. The plan is to spread my time, focus and energy over the week, rather than blitz everything in the one day. One way of doing this is to theme each day around a particular product or project.

I wouldn’t say that 2017 was a significant success using this technique, but I did make some gains. I’m aiming to do better with my three words for 2018.

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No Resolutions, Just Good Habits

I’m not making any resolutions for the year ahead.

In my experience, it’s a self-defeating exercise that always ends up with me not seeing it through to the end of the year.

If you’re thinking along the same lines, then what’s the alternative to making improvements without failing?

Have you ever noticed how bad habits stick like watching television, sitting on the couch, and mindlessly thumbing through timelines on social media? These are not good habits to get into, but the thing about them is that they’re easy to do. They just don’t require any thought whatsoever.

What if we could just as quickly get into good habits rather than bad habits?

Well, this is what worked for me when I first started building good habits.

I started with just one habit.

I started getting into the habit of writing every day. To help remind myself to write, I set the alarm on my phone to give me the nudge to start writing. When my phone went off, I would then start writing. That’s all I did for a whole month. A habit built up every day. And it worked. It’s still working. I’m writing this, aren’t I?

The following month I added another alarm on my phone to do something else the next month and kept it going through the year. By the end of the year, I had built up some good habits that helped me through the day.

The problem many people face with new year resolutions is that they try to do too much at once. It’s like trying to lift weights at the gym. You just can’t bench press 100kg unless you’ve trained your body to get into the habit of being able to bench press 100kg. To achieve such a weight, you need to start with a smaller load and then gradually build up to the target weight.

Habits are the same.

You start small (ideally with one) and then build them up.

Tracking your habits is a great way to build them up. I’ve tried some habit tracking apps over the last year, but the one that works for me is Productive. It was the first habit tracking app that I tried, and nothing else I’ve tried has been as easy to use.

The good thing about tracking apps is that they give you a sense of success when you’ve reached a significant milestone like completing the habit for a week or even a month. Productive and other habit tracking apps have reminders built in as well, so it keeps all your habit building needs in the one place.

So, forget the new year resolutions and set yourself a short-term habit to achieve for the next few days. Once you’ve completed a few days with it, extend the practice for a few more days and keep at it. In no time you’ll find that you’ve been able to get into your intended habit daily and by the end of a period of a few weeks it will become more of something that you just do.

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Features I would love to see in Safari iOS

I’ve been using an iPad Pro as a web development device for a few months now. Overall I’ve been surprised at the ability of the device to handle this type of work. Apps like Working Copy, Textastic and GoCoEdit have certainly helped as has the split view on iOS and more recently the ability to drag and drop between apps.

One drawback amongst all this though is the browser I use. Safari has been my browser of choice for iOS for a long time. I’ve had brief dealings with Google Chrome and Firefox, but they’ve never lasted in terms of use. I keep coming back to Safari.

As browser’s go, there’s little to fault about Safari on all the devices it supports. It works well on my iPhone and the smaller iPads I’ve used over the years. With the iPad Pro though, it feels that Safari is short-changing me.

Pinned tabs

Right okay. Pinned tabs aren’t on everybody’s list of priority features for a browser but I’ve been using them for so long on other browsers it seems that they’ve been around forever. That’s not true in the case of Safari for macOS though. Pinned tabs have only been around for a couple of years with Safari which seems like a very short amount of time given that they have been available in other browsers for years.

So why pinned tabs on Safari for iOS?

Well, largely it’s an organisational thing. There’s a number of tabs that I keep open through the day and pinning these tabs in the browser allows me to quickly jump to them through the day.

Given the screen space on the iPad Pro models and even on the iPad Mini models, I’m surprised that the pinning of tabs hasn’t already been done.

Web inspector

I was surprised to find that the Web Inspector on Safari for iOS is only available when you connect your iPad to another Apple computer.

Screenshot of Safari Web Inspecter preferences

Now while a web inspector is probably a big ask on a device that probably wasn’t intended to be a web development device, I think it’s a fair request. People are turning to the iPad Pro and looking for a device that replaces their laptop or even their desktop. The inability to run the Web Inspector without connecting the iPad Pro to a MacBook or iMac doesn’t exactly

However, while you might not be able to use the Web Inspector for Safari iOS without connecting to another Mac, there is an app called Web Tools that replicates this need feature rather nicely.

Support for pinned extensions

I toyed with the idea of calling these starred extensions but pinned extensions might be a better idea, but first I have to explain what this is.

At the top right of the Safari app on the iPad is the share button. This button allows you to share the current URL with a number of other apps on your iPad or iPhone. I use it a number of times every day, mostly for sharing links to my Instapaper, Pinboard and Bear apps. I also use it quite a lot for opening 1Password. The share button on the iPad Pro is a quick and convenient way for me to share a link. It’s also one more press on the screen than I care to do.

If you take a look at the Safari interface on my iPad Pro, you’ll notice that there is some whitespace on either side of the address bar. What if this space could be utilised in a better way rather than just leaving it blank. What if (and only if your screen size can support it) you could pin a couple of your favourite share extensions to the Safari toolbar?

By pinning your share extensions to either the left or right of the address bar, you’re putting your share extensions in a more convenient place.

There are obvious restrictions to this like screen size and even the orientation of the device which governs how much space you have, but surely the developers at Apple could make this happen?

The expectations of a Pro device

When you name your device as ‘Pro’ there is a certain level of expectation of it. I must admit I eye-rolled when I first heard that the new iPad would be called an iPad Pro, but as I heard more about it and watched the first couple of iterations of the device, I could see where Apple was going with this.

To support this new family of devices I think that there needs to another level up of apps that are targeted at the Pro line of devices only or at least variations of the apps that support Pro features.

These apps might be specialised and target a specific market of people, but given that the iPad Pro is already being seen as a viable option to a laptop and even a desktop, I think it’s important for Apple to offer that extra bit of functionality that users may look for in an app.

These features that I’m looking for in Safari for iOS might not be a priority for the Safari team or even on the list of new features for Safari, but I’m sure that if Apple is looking to push the iPad Pro device to more professionals then there should be some distinction between the normal apps for iOS and those for Pro devices.

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A spreadsheet will do

Over the weekend I closed my Highrise account.

In case your not familiar with the name, Highrise is a CRM product for small businesses. It started life as part of the 37signals range of products, but has since branched out onto it’s own.

The initial pull to using a CRM tool like Highrise is that I wanted to a tool that allowed me to store important emails from clients as well as track projects and work I was chasing with prospective clients. Highrise has great email integration that allows you to forward emails from clients to Highrise and it will store them for you. It also allows you to track deals which in my case represented prospective work with clients and creating proposals to win work.

I should mention that while Highrise is a great product, my decision to cancel my account with it isn’t anything to do with the performance and features of Highrise. It is a great product and under the right circumstances it is worth looking at if you need a CRM for your small business.

My main reason for moving away from Highrise was more to do with how I wasn’t using it to it’s full potential.

In the time that I’ve had to use Highrise, I’ve used the deals section rarely. It’s nothing to do with Highrise, it’s just that in the time that I have been freelancing, most correspondence takes place over email and I’ve rarely had to pitch for work. Most prospective clients like to discuss the work that they would like me to do and discuss my background and experience. After a few emails, most of these prospective clients then decide to exchange contracts to begin the work. I’ve rarely had to pitch for work and so the deals feature of Highrise has been left untouched.

The email integration with Highrise on the other hand though was used on a daily basis. Client emails went straight to Highrise as well as my replies to them. Although I used this feature daily, there were only a handful of different clients to deal with at anyone time so while the archiving of these emails in Highrise was nice to have, most of the emails involved discussions before work began. My email provider already offers a large amount of space to store emails and they’re filed away in a folder. I was starting to wonder if I needed Highrise to manage the storage of emails.

Finally there was the managing of contacts. Yes I do have all my clients contact details, but I rarely have to refer to them. I speak with clients daily when working with them, I use email to send weekly updates and invoices and for all other daily correspondence with clients I recommend Slack. All my clients details are saved on the appropriate devices I need to have them on and aside from that there’s no other special requirement to managing this data.

It was starting to look like I didn’t need Highrise at all.

After deliberating for a few days I finally decided to export all my data from Highrise and delete my account. Without a CRM though I needed something else. All my client details are already stored in my address book but I needed something else that acted as a more detailed version of their details and allowed me to find and filter contacts based on information I have recorded against each of them.

The answer lay in a document type that I rarely use. The spreadsheet.

After getting the contact columns in the spreadsheet in the right order, I imported the contact details in and started adding the necessary changes I need so that I could filter those contacts.

Right, so the spreadsheet doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of Highrise, but for the moment it will do. I’ve got all my contacts in one place. I can filter them based on the next date with which I need to contact them for a catch up and there’s enough flexibility in Numbers in that I can add more information if I need for each client.

If my client base was to increase over the next 12 months and work started to change on a monthly basis then I would definitely consider Highrise again. It is a great product, but I couldn’t justify it’s use as a simple address book and email archive.

For the moment though, the spreadsheet is enough for me.

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The Deep Productivity Seminar

Yesterday I attended the Nicholas Bate’s Deep Productivity seminar in Oxford. It was a great chance to meet a fellow and much respected blogger and at the same use the course to gather up all the important bits about productivity.

The venue of the seminar was in the Magdalen College School. It was unlike any school I’ve ever visited and is also the oldest school that I’ve ever been in. If you like Harry Potter you will love this place.

I arrived a bit early being just around the corner for accommodation. I got speaking to Nicholas and a few other attendees to the seminar and then the hard work began at 9am.

The seminar was extremely valuable and it was a good opportunity to re-visit some strategies to help stay focused and productive. I also walked away with a number of books from Nicholas that have been added to the top of the reading list.

So what did I get from this seminar then?

Well, the whole point of this wasn’t to learn something new. I’m a big fan of Nicholas Bate’s blog and his material so I was already familiar with a number of strategies, but where I previously got this information over a long period of time, the seminar provided the opportunity to consolidate all of this information into a single form that I could digest more easily and refresh my brain.

It was also a great opportunity to meet Nicholas and other attendees.

All in it was a great investment of my time and I hope that it can yield some great results in the weeks, months and years to come.

Thank you Nicholas for putting on a superb event and it was great to finally meet you good sir!

For the attendees, I’ve managed to go my first 24 hours without bread as my first actionable item. Started yesterday during the seminar (thanks for the nudge NB) and made it to this morning by having cereal and a smoothie rather than toast. Yay!

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Scaling Back

For a long time I’ve wrestled with a number of different terminal apps and tools in the hope of improving my productivity at the command line. Initially I used iTerm2, a terminal emulator for macOS, as my preferred terminal app. Then I also started using tmux, a terminal multiplexer, on top of that. Then came along Vim, the open source text editor, and I started using that as well.

This was the first time in a long time that I had started using all three again. The benefit of using this combination of tools is that I could run both my command line and text editor within a single app and very rarely have to switch away from it.

One huge pain point I couldn’t get round though was the simple act of copying and pasting text between Vim and other apps. Despite a number of attempts to get it working I’ve decided to call it a day on this trio of tools.

  • Vim is a great text editor, but to be honest I’m faster coding with Sublime Text or even Atom for that fact. Yes, I use the mouse and yes I want to have features and plugins that don’t require me to mess about with command line.
  • tmux is great for managing different command line sessions within a single terminal emulator but I don’t think it’s a necessity. Lately I’ve been doing away with split panes and using multiple tabs.
  • Which brings me to iTerm2. As great an application as it is, there’s nothing that it offers that I can’t get from Apple’s own terminal emulator, Terminal.

So I stopped using Vim, tmux and iTerm2 and fell back to using Terminal and Sublime Text.

I’ve went full circle from starting with the basics, adding more tools to the stack, before reducing the tools I need for the terminal right down to the absolute basics. One app for the terminal and one app for editing source code.

I can see the case for using tools like tmux and Vim. Maybe you spend most of your day in a terminal as a system administrator and you’re faster with Vim. Maybe you need to manage multiple servers on a daily basis so splitting panes in tmux suits your line of work. I get it. I understand why these tools exist and why you would use them.

Sometimes though scaling back is just as much a benefit.

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A lesson in building habits

It’s that time of year where people are starting to tail off on their new year resolutions. Let’s face it, for most of us new year resolutions are nothing more than pipe dream. I don’t do new year resolutions but what I do believe in are habits.

Habits are easier to build than new year resolutions and once they’re part of your routine, you’ll find that don’t need to spend as much time building that habit again if you break it. This also makes your goals (or resolutions) much more achievable.

Ethan’s golf has been progressing nicely over the past year. He’s comfortable with his new clubs, he’s familiar with his local course and he’s getting to know more and more people through different levels of coaching and playing. His handicap didn’t fall much last year, but he’s adamant that this year it will come down and he’s set himself the target of being at a handicap of 20 or less by the end of this year.

Rather than getting him to focus on the long term goal of reducing his handicap though I started him on something more manageable.

Building the habit of practicing every day for 20 minutes.

It doesn’t matter what part of his game he practices on, it could be his swing, chipping, putting or playing out on the course.

He started off well. He needed reminders to practice in the first week, but he managed to get there. After a couple of weeks, his calendar now looks like this:

16 days of daily practice and all without a break in the chain.

I don’t need to remind him to practice anymore. He just does it. He takes a look at his calendar and puts in the practice so that he can keep put the next ‘X’ in and keep the chain going.

The habit is now part of his daily routine but Ethan is still a long way away from that goal. Once the golf season starts in earnest he should see better scores on his scored cards and start to see that handicap fall.

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Level up

There comes a point in your career when you can no longer coast along just punching in and out and doing a day’s work. Nobody tell’s when that time will come. It can be in the first few days of your job or after years of working for yourself.

When that time comes to level up, you can do two things.

  1. Ignore the opportunity and keep coasting along doing the same thing you do every day. Eventually though the opportunity will reveal itself again.
  2. Use the opportunity to level up and start making improvements in your career and your prospects.

While I’ve been doing client work for five days a week for the last two years, the chance to level up has presented itself on a number of occasions. Each time though I’ve used the excuse that I don’t have the time to make improvements or start learning something new, and while that is a poor excuse, it’s what I did.

I’m paying the price for it now though. I’m still busy working for clients and next year’s schedule is looking great. I can’t always bank on having the same clients though in the next five years. They may no longer be using the web frameworks that I specialise in, they be looking for alternatives that I am not well versed in. They might even want to take a look at something completely new.

When clients want to level up, you need to be ready to level up with them. Whether it’s technology, tools or processes, you need to be able to have enough knowledge to level up with them. To make this transition as easy as possible it helps if you can be the one that levels up first. Then your party of clients can follow.

So when the opportunity presents itself to learn something new, do yourself a favour. Don’t ignore it.

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Why Notebooks Work For Me

This week I’ve highlighted the three notebooks I am using to replace my task manager app.

The reason that I find that notebooks work so well is because while notebooks are more versatile, they also need input and I don’t mean of the mouse and keyboard kind.

Digital task managers have a number of features that allow you to take shortcuts. I took these shortcuts as a way of avoiding planning and reviewing my next block of work. I simply let my task manager do it for me using features like lists and tags.

I can’t take shortcuts with a notebook. I can’t quickly filter out a subset of tasks. I can’t move a group of tasks in a few seconds. Given time I could do these but just not quickly. And that’s the reason I find that notebooks work so well.

Managing your tasks using notebooks means that you need to spend more time planning, reviewing and making decisions about what’s important.

They need that little bit of extra work. Work that I think is worth putting in.

So far, everything is going well. The only significant change was the introduction of the bullet journal, but I’ve already have plenty of use through my other notebooks to make the switch to the bullet journal easy.

To find out more follow Patrick Rhone and Belle Beth Cooper who are real notebook aficionados. Both update their blogs on a regular basis and feature posts around notebooks and how to use them. Patrick also has a website called The Cramped that you might revolves around analog writing.

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The Logging Notebook

When it comes to getting things done the focus is always on what needs done and when you can do it. Without these two you would end up with the wrong task getting done at the wrong time. You’ll eventually find yourself just getting nowhere fast.

These two task variables are important but just as important is the time you spend looking at the progress you have made. In order to do that you need look past more than just the tasks you done.

I look to the tasks that fall into two categories:

  1. The difficult tasks that presented problems but were eventually done.
  2. The tasks that I enjoyed doing and that made a significant impact.

It’s these groups of tasks that make up the bulk of my final notebook in the process, the logging notebook. When it comes to looking back what you’ve done, you need to filter out the important tasks so that you know you are making progress. This is what I use the logging notebook for.

I’m using a Hobonichi Techo planner as my logging notebook. Persuaded by Patrick Rhone and Mike Rohde I bought one at the end of last year.

The notebook itself is fairly small and the paper although thin, is of superb quality. This makes it ideal for a broad range of writing instruments. I mostly use a Lamy Safari for this notebook, although I have done a few sketches with other pens.

Rather than using it as a planner, I record the big wins for the day and the tasks that I finished that made a real difference. Those “Yay me!” moments when it’s more than just another task done, it’s a significant amount of progress made.

The year is drawing to a close and I’m glad to say that the Hobonichi Techno planner has been a great investment as I use it daily. Next year’s is already sitting on my desk waiting to log the next set of wins .

You can use any notebook as your logging book. The most important thing is to log the wins. It adds a much clearer view of the progress you’ve made and also has the benefit of providing a much needed boost when you feel you have been slacking.

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The Bullet Journal

Bullet journalling has been around for a few years now, but it’s only now that I’ve decided to start a bullet journal of my own. The bullet journal is the idea of Ryder Carroll. He wanted something easy to use and over a period of time, he tweaked what we now know as the bullet journal.

The bullet journal isn’t the notebook itself, it’s the conventions used in the notebook that make it a bullet journal. There are a number of different pages to a bullet journal:

  • Future log - A two-page spread listing what you need to do over the next six months.
  • Monthly log - A single page listing the month ahead and what you planned for each day.
  • Daily log - A page with tasks and notes listed for each day.
  • Collection - A single page comprising of a number of related tasks.
  • Index - A number of pages with references to any future logs, monthly logs, collections and any other page you need to remember.

I’m using it in much the same way as the method on the website with the exception of the bullets. I’ve been using Patrick Rhone’s DashPlus system for few years now for my notebooks for capturing and so I’m sticking with that.

I keep a list of recurring tasks that I must do each week and month. Every week I have admin work to do, invoices to review and marketing tasks to get done. I keep these tasks under two pages. The first is weekly and the second is monthly. Any recurring tasks get listed here and then migrated to the month log or daily log when I need too.

It’s fairly easy to pick up and that’s one of the reasons why I like it so much. Even the simplest task manager apps on the market have a degree of complexity about them. With the bullet journal everything is there to see. Nothing to hide.

The immediate benefit is that you’re away from the screen for periods at a time through the day. Modern technology is great and makes us more productive, but there comes a point where even modern technology becomes counterproductive and we end up needing something to reinforce what’s important to do next.

For me the big benefit is the need to spend more time reviewing and planning my tasks in the journal rather than simply seeing what my to do list has scheduled in place for me to do that day. Now that I spend more time planning my day and week I’m more aware of what I’m doing and the time I’m spending on each task.

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The Pocket Notebook

I’ve been carrying a pocket notebook with me everywhere I go for the last few years but it hasn’t been until this year that I really started to use it on a daily basis.

The idea is simple. You keep a pocket notebook on you to capture ideas, thoughts and anything else that you’ll need to remember at a later date.

No matter what profession you find yourself in, the most essential function of the pocket notebook is to provide a place to capture the ideas that spring to mind throughout the day.

The Manly Tradition of the Pocket Notebook by The Art of Manliness

You might think it’s a little over the top but how many times have you tried to remember something that came to you a few hours before but you couldn’t? Unless you already have a place for these then I imagine that for most of you it’s quite a lot.

It used to happen to me all the time. I started using email to capture moments like this in Todoist, but that was the wrong place to capture them.

Instead I took the advice of Patrick Rhone and started using a notebook to capture all these little loose ends that come to me through the day.

It’s been a decision I haven’t regretted and become such an engrained habit in my day that my notebook goes with me everywhere.

At the moment I’m still working through a couple of pocket Moleskine notebooks, but I’ll be using the Field Notes notebooks when my first subscription arrives in a few weeks.

I keep my notebook in a Nock Hightower with a few index cards if I need to hand some information out. It also has space for a couple of pens and I also keep my headphones in here as well. Seems as good a place as any and it means all I need to lift if I’m going out is my keys, wallet, phone and Nock. I rarely go anywhere without all four.

A pocket notebook might get you stares and a few questions about it, but for capturing those bits of info you might need to remember later on, it can’t be beat.

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Moving To An Analog Task Management System

A few weeks ago I decided to take the plunge and stop using Todoist as my task manager. As you know I’m a big fan of Todoist and it wasn’t easy making that decision. My frustrations came from the fact that I needed something more intentional than another app on my phone, another task list in the ether of the Internet. I need something that requires a bit more work to manage than just bashing in a few words with my keyboard or frantically clicking my mouse.

CJ Chilvers’ post about ditching your to do list had been on my mind for a few days before making the decision to stop using Todoist.

I’ve slowly become a convert to the idea that we need to concentrate on our calendars a whole lot more to achieve what we want in work and life. If you want it done, it must be scheduled. If it’s not scheduled, it’s just another item on your wishlist that will never be completed.

Kill Your To Do List by CJ Chilvers

Investing time in the task manager isn’t the priority, it’s investing the time in the calendar that makes the difference.

So, do I need Todoist? Well, I’ve been without it for over a month now and I’m still working, still busy and still making an income. Clearly working from your calendar is a good thing.

However, that leaves me without some form of tracking and managing tasks. I wanted something that didn’t have me sitting on my phone first thing in the morning, something that required a bit more effort to use and finally something that I could just pick up and start using regardless of where I am.

I’ve been using pocket notebooks to capture stuff through the day like notes, messages, tasks, ideas, books to read and so on. Being able to stop, write, and then carry on working gives me a little break from the screen through the day but it also got me thinking about using more notebooks to manage my tasks.

I might have killed my to do list on Todoist, but I still needed some form of task management. And that’s what this week’s posts are about. So tune in tomorrow for the first post on the humble pocket notebook.

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Digital Morning Pages Again

For over a year now I’ve been writing my morning pages by hand. At first the exercise was all about moving away from the growing stack of digital tools I was using. It was becoming tedious continually sitting at a screen so I started handwriting my morning pages.

The exercise itself forced me to slow down a bit more and practice my handwriting. It’s been going well and I’ve got a stack of full notebooks to show for it.

I use a Hobonichi Techo planner for logging a few things through the day and scheduling important meetings and work. It means I’m writing a lot more than I did in the past, and the time I’m spending on writing is growing. If I had no client work on then it wouldn’t be a problem, but I’m doing client work most days.

Whether my morning pages are handwritten or typed, I’m know that I’m still getting the value out of my morning pages, but the time taken to type my morning pages is much shorter than handwriting them. To that end I’m typing my morning pages again on 750words.com.

I started this morning with a weekly review and will be using it just like I did with my handwritten morning pages, focusing on a particular topic for each day and just writing.

I love using pen and paper where I can. It’s portable and flexible. There comes a point though when the digital alternative has clearer benefits and it’s definitely the case here.

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North American Holidays

Autumn in Toronto

There’s a lot of things I love about living in the UK. Beautiful scenery within an easy drive, great golf courses, bearable weather through the winter and easy access to the continent for holidays. There are lots of other benefits as well, some important, some not so important. There’s one thing though that I envy North America for and it’s already started this year.

It begins at the start of October and runs right through to the end of December. It’s the mix of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas all running one after the other. They all coincide with each other whether you’re American or Canadian. The order might be different for Canadians, but they still celebrate Thanksgiving within this period.

We visited Jennifer’s parents in October a number of years ago. It was the first week in October and people had already started decorating their houses with pumpkins, lights and other decorations celebrating the time of the harvest and the ghoulish night at the end of the month. It was great to see so many homes making a big effort to decorate their homes.

Then there is Thanksgiving. As you know the UK doesn’t have any holiday like this. We have Guy Fawkes night on the 5th of November but I would gladly trade it for Thanksgiving day. The family around the table for a big meal and the NFL on the television through the afternoon and evening.

Finally there’s the run up to the end of it all. Christmas. We’ve spent a couple of Christmases in Canada and both we’re great, although I have to say it was much more fun with the kids around.

At Christmas as well there are a lot of houses decorated with lights and they definitely go into in a bigger way than we do in the UK.

We’ve got neighbours with relatives in Canada as well and with this common ground, the conversation at this time of year inevitably falls back to how it’s better in North America at this time of the year.

It’s not about any one particular holiday, just the fact that there’s so much happening during this time of year and it also coincides with a favourite of mine, the NFL season.

Was I born in the wrong country? Probably. Jennifer often jokes that I would be more at home living in North American than in the UK.

I would love to experience the whole run of holidays through the autumn and winter but it would mean a major upheaval of the family. For now though, I’ll just quietly be envious on this side of the pond.

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Grass Roots Productivity - Do the Work

This is it. The last part of the Grass Roots Productivity process. Doing the work. Unfortunately there’s no quick fixes or hacks to this one. You either do the work or you don’t.

It doesn’t need to be as black and white as that though. There are things you can do to help you have a productive day. I always come back to Peter Bregman’s book, 18 minutes. He has a simple rule for getting something done.

If you really want to get something done, decide when and where you are going to do it.

18 minutes by Peter Bregman

When you decide where and when you’re going to do something you add structure to your day. This structure leads to a plan day for the day is more manageable. If you’re like me then the location will rarely change for most of your work. Time though is one thing that’s a big impact on our day. So decide when you want to do a task so that you can split your day into more manageable chunks.

I’ve tried in the past to pick off items from the top of the list at the start of the day. This is the wrong thing to do. It often leads to confusion and the wrong things getting done at the wrong time. I’ve learned now that scheduling actions into my calendar ahead of time is a better way to get things done.

Doing the work is all about self discipline and honesty.

Discipline yourself so that you do the work set before you. Schedule in your calendar the tasks that matter. For every one task that needs to be done, there’s four other that could be done. Never mind the other four and focus on the one.

And when it comes to reviewing your progress, be honest with yourself. If you could have done better then aim to improve your work and your progress on the next block of work.

This is the step where many people falter when it comes to using a process, but only you can make it work. So do yourself a favour and do the work.

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Grass Roots Productivity - Regular Reviewing

We’ve looked at capturing and scheduling already in my little productivity process. The next step (not in order though) is the review.

For hundreds of years travellers have used different navigation techniques. The stars, maps, compasses and now the trusty smartphone can even help us get to our destination.

How do you get to the goals that you are working towards though? Completing the items on your master list is one thing, but it’s all for nothing if there isn’t a goal to work towards. Most of us can remember to do the little things without the aid of an ongoing list to help us. If you’re keeping a track of your master list though, then you are most likely working towards a goal. How will you know though if you’re working towards that goal and making progress?

If the goal is the destination then the review step is our compass that steers us towards that goal. A regular review will help you ensure that you’re making progress towards an that goal.

My review process involves three stages.

1. Clearing the decks

In this stage I work through each of my various inboxes and convert any items into actionable tasks. It might be emails in my inbox, tasks on my CRM, or items I’ve captured in my notebook. I use this stage to bring everything together into my master list.

2. Review projects

I use the term project to review any amount of work that involves ongoing work. It might be generating content for my blogs, client work, or work for DailyMuse. This is where I review the progress of each project and ensure that I’m making progress towards it. 

3. Planning ahead

Now that I know the progress made in the previous week or month, I can look ahead and plan for a similar timeframe. This involves scheduling actions into my calendar and setting reminders for the important ones.

Only my freelance work gets reminders as this is more important than most of my other projects.


And that’s all there is to it. I find it best to block off an hour a week to do my weekly review and three hours a month to do my monthly review. Done on a regular basis, the review step will help ensure that I’m working towards my goals.

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Grass Roots Productivity - Smarter Scheduling

We’ve got a list of actions from a few days of capturing. Now what do we do? We schedule. And not by just putting whatever we want to do in any free space on our calendar. We schedule by putting the right tasks in at the right time.

Take a moment to look back at the last few days or even weeks of work you have done. When do you peak and when you do you plummet?

I work better in the morning. It’s during this time that I like to work on more creative tasks. Building new features, sketching screens and of course wrditing. For these types of tasks, this is when I am at my sharpest.

In the afternoon I prefer to work on more problem-solving tasks. Debugging, refactoring and general problem solving through code. I find this type of work less intensive than creative work so I prefer to do this in the afternoon.

How you work is down to you. But you need to be able to identify when you’re most productive. It’s important to ensure that you are scheduling the right tasks in at the right times. Dropping tasks in your calendar is going to lead to unproductive days.

Now that you know when it’s the right time to do the right tasks, you can start scheduling those tasks in. I’ve tried many ways of partitioning my day but the one for me that sticks the most is being able to work in 1 hour blocks. 50 minutes of work with a ten minute break. It’s almost same as the Pomodoro Technique, I just opt to work in longer chunks of time.

I also only schedule in tasks that take no more than an hour. When it comes to any kind of work I break down tasks into one hour chunks of work so that I’m focused on one thing at a time. Once a task is complete I can move onto the next task for the next hour.

Scheduling is an important part the productivity process. Done right, it will help you work through the right tasks at the right time and give you the sense of making progress. And that’s what being productive is all about.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Morning Pages Should Be Like Skimming Stones

The morning pages habit trundles on with my Moleskine Volant notebook filling up by the day. Some days it’s easy to get started while other days it seems like a struggle. It shouldn’t be like this.

Every year we visit Jennifer’s family just outside of Toronto. The holiday usually revolves around shopping for the girls and golf for the boys, but on those days where we want to spend the time together as a group we sometimes head down to the lake. It’s a great spot for a picnic and a walk, it lets the kids explore and of course there’s that love of skimming stones. You spend a couple of seconds looking for a good stone and you throw. There’s no concern about the quality of the throw, a few throws is all that’s needed to get better. Also you know that once it’s thrown that stone is gone forever. Well at least until it’s washed back up back onto the shore again.

Your morning pages should be like this. Just writing, seeing where it takes you and never worrying about that writing coming back. It’s an exercise to clear your mind and nothing more. Also it doesn’t matter about the content of your morning pages. It’s all for you. No-one else. Once it’s written it can disappear from the eye of the public forever. Just like your little stone skimming across the water and disappearing, your morning pages can hide forever.

This morning I was stuck for something to write about, so I just started writing. Half a page in and it started to get easier. The next time I start my morning pages it won’t be so hard to get started. I just need to remember it’s just like skimming stones.

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An Empty Cartridge

I’ve just checked the order on a batch of Pentel pens and refill cartridges I bought from Amazon. It was around sixty days ago. Since receiving these pens from Amazon I’ve tried to build a habit of writing my morning pages on weekdays. Rather than typing like a demon possessed, I’ve used pen and paper for this task. To be honest I’ve skipped a few days, but I’ve fulfilled my daily quota on most of the days.

Yesterday was a bit of a milestone. I ran out of ink. That one pen lasted about sixty days in total. What I was left with was an empty ink cartridge. I’m not sure how many pages I’ve written in my notebooks in total as my morning pages are spread out across two different notebooks and there’s stuff between each set of morning pages. Might be time to dedicate a notebook to this.

Checking back on my writing I’ve looked through what I’ve achieved and been impressed by the amount of words that I’ve written. Most of it will never see the light of the Internet but there’s a few ideas in there for posts and writing projects. Hell, there’s even a few ideas for novels in there.

I’ve popped in a refill cartridge ready to start the process all over again. Around sixty days from now I expect to burn through another cartridge. If I haven’t, then I’ll know I’ve missed out on more than a fair share of writing days.

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Stop Reacting

Seriously, stop reacting.

Stop checking Twitter, Facebook, email and anything else that’s driven by notifications. In fact just turn off all notifications. Turn them off on your computer, phone and tablet. Notifications are the great reactive intruder that ruins your focus. With notifications turned off, you’ll stop reacting to the outside forces that will destroy your focus.

Stop putting the work aside that should be doing for the work you need to do. Yes there are things we need to do, but we should be smart enough to identify the work we need to do and schedule it in for the appropriate time in the future. It then becomes work we should be doing at the right time. Continually reacting to work that needs to be done shows a lack of planning. Plan ahead to eliminate reactive work.

Stop reacting aimlessly to changes in your life. Aim for a point in the distant future and work towards it. The world will do it’s best to try and push you off track. Changes in family, career, finances and health can be negotiated with a slight detour but you can still arrive at the place that you initially aimed for.

Stop reacting. It can be done.

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Always Be Learning From Experiences

Learning tends to come from acquiring the knowledge of topics that we’re not familiar with. This is why as kids we all went to school. At a young age we have limited knowledge of how to read, write and count. Through years of education and study we eventually acquire enough knowledge to allow us to learn and understand each of these topics. We can specialise in this new found knowledge by going to college or university or moving into the workplace and getting a job.

What about what we already know?

There I was this morning setting up a new database for an application I’ve been working on for a client when I noticed that the application’s scripts to setup the database wouldn’t run due to a dependency on data in the database that was always assumed to be there. Simply put, I couldn’t create the database from these scripts.

So my knowledge of the application has changed and I have learned something new. What I have learned isn’t a new topic, just a tiny part of a topic I already know. My experience with the database scripts has taught me that basing the build process of the database on data that is already assumed to be there is wrong.

While we tend to seek out to learn from new topics, we forget that we can also learn from experiences. At time we might think that the knowledge we have is correct, but it’s only through experiences that we find out whether it is correct or not. In this case I have raised my concerns with the client about the build scripts for the database and proposed a solution to correct it in the future.

Always be learning. Whether it’s from new topics we know nothing of or by fine tuning the knowledge we have through experiences.

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Managing Your Time Online with Automation and Filters

Left unchecked, you could easily waste away your time online. Posting, bookmarking, pinning, reading, uploading, downloading, torrenting and streaming. We’ve entered into an era of the Internet where there’s growing demand for you to be connected to anything and everything. If it’s not managed properly you could easily get sucked into an almost endless zombie state of clicking, scrolling and swiping. It’s something that I’ve grown more aware of over the years, but with kids in the house, you suddenly become more aware of how much time you spend being connected. I don’t want my kids to remember their parents as “those two with their heads creaking into their phones”.

With this in mind, I’ve started being a little bit more selective of how I manage my time being connected. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I only class the time I’m on the Internet, this can include any form contact with my laptop and smartphone. Cutting back on the this time is the key, but how do we do this?

In the last couple of weeks I’ve made a few changes to the apps I’m using and how I use them, and I’ve found that there’s two key places where you can improve severing that attachment to technology. Automation and filtering.

Automation

Automation is the ability to take a number of manual steps and make them run on their own without any human intervention. Sounds a bit daunting to start with, but there are in fact a number of great services that can make detaching from technology easier.

I’ve used IFTTT for the last couple of years to automate a few things between different services I use. I wouldn’t call myself a power user, but it’s easy to set up recipes means that you can schedule all manner of action between the different channels you might use.

I’ve only just started using Zapier in the last couple of weeks. IFTTT is great but I’ve heard good reviews about Zapier as well. My first impressions of it are good, and while they don’t cover all the same channels that IFTTT does, they do have a vast catalog of services that you can hook into.

Using tools like this can handle the mundane tasks for you, like backing up your photographs to Dropbox or builing lists on Twitter for an event you’re attending. Each step might only take a few seconds to do, but given that you’ll probably end up repeating these steps time and time again, it’s worth looking at tools like IFTTT and Zapier to handle them for you.

Filtering

Filtering is where we want to pick out the signals from the noise. What’s the important stuff? It’s something I haven’t used much in the past, but I’ve finding it to be more and more useful to limit my time online.

Perhaps the first place you might have came across filtering is on a number of Twitter clients. Tweetbot and Echofon allow you to mute keywords in your stream. This comes in handy when you don’t want to see tweets about a particular topic. I recently muted keywords for the Apple Watch event a couple of weeks ago and recently also blocked tweets from the SXSW event. Both topics weren not in my interests and so to stop my timeline being polluted with links to these I muted them in Echofon.

The last place I’ve seen filtering avaialble but haven’t used yet is in the RSS reader application, Feedbin. For each of the RSS feeds you have, Feedbin gives you the option to mute a feed. I haven’t used this yet but knowing this feature is here means that I’m abit more open to subscribing to other RSS feeds. I can mute feeds that are perhaps covering a specific topic over a number of days or weeks and if it’s something I’m not interested in, I can mute for that period of time.

This is just a couple of ways in which I manage the daily onslaught of information. I would be interested to hear of other suggestions that you use to manage and reduce your time being connected to the digital world.

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Productivity is About Processes

Dazzled by the lights of new task management app? Before switching, make sure you’re switching for the right reasons. Productivity isn’t about the apps.

Read any productivity book and you’ll find a common observation among them. Rarely is a specific tool mentioned that makes that specific productivity method work better.

I spent a good couple of years hopping from app to app in search of a task management app that met my requirements. It wasn’t a wasted journey, I did get to try out a number of different apps but I didn’t have a productivity method in mind that I would use with the app. I was simply trying some apps out. I was going about this the wrong way, you see it should be the other way around. Productivity is about processes not tools. The tools we use should compliment our preferred productivity method.

Look at any productivity method and it’s about the processes and workflows involved. Capturing, reviewing, planning and executing are the most common processes involved in most methods. I use all four of these processes in my own method which centers around a single list of actions. I then use projects and tags to group actions, filters to review and a calendar for scheduling those actions.

The processes I use means that I could use just about any task management app, but it’s in the details where you can find great task management apps. Here’s a list of requirements that I finally settled on.

  • I need to be able to capture anywhere.
  • I need to group related actions into projects.
  • I need to group actions by tags.
  • I need to see different views of my list.
  • I need my list available to me wherever I go.

Looking at these requirements I can think of a number of task management apps that could meet all these requirements. After reviewing a number of apps that I’ve tried in the past I found a couple that worked for me. I choose TaskPaper as it gave me the ability to keep my master list in one location in raw text. After a few months though my list became difficult to manage. I started looking for a replacement.

One task management application that I hadn’t tried up to this point was Todoist. I started moving my master list over to Todoist. That was eight months ago. Today I’m still using Todoist. It meets all my requirements and also provides a number of other features that I didn’t look for before in a task management app.

With a crowded marketplace of task management apps it can be easy to be dazzled by the new kid on the block, but productivity isn’t about those apps. It’s about the processes. If you’re on the market for a new task management app or you’re simply looking for a change, make sure you are looking for an app that fits your processes.

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Resistance

Resistance is a natural response when you’re faced with a big challenge or project. It can be all too easy to simply shrug off the challenge and look elsewhere for something else to do. I have to admit, there have been a few days over the course of this year I did exactly that. Looking back, my reasons for resisting to step up to the challenge were varied.

Decisions

We make hundreds of decisions everyday, but when a decision is part of a long term commitment, it can be difficult to sometimes make that decision. What if I make the wrong choice? Can I change my mind at a later date?

The details of decisions cost me a lot of time this year. The decisions I was making were not huge decisions, they were simply decisions that would have a small effect on the outcome of a project.

I should have shrugged of the resistance to not making a decision and just committed to a choice, an outcome. If I made a mistake then it’s just time lost in finding the right decision. We can’t make good decisions all the time.

Confidence

Or should I put it as lack of confidence? Despite having worked on many software development projects over the years, my confidence isn’t 100% when faced with a challenge or a problem.

As a kid I would rarely put my hand up to answer a question in class for fear of getting it wrong and looking stupid. It’s weird because a couple of weeks ago at my oldest son’s parents night at school, the teacher told me that my son lacked confidence in answering questions in class. Bit of a family trait then.

Anyway, regardless of the size of the challenge or problem, I started to see that the way to build confidence when faced with a challenge is to do it a little bit at a time. Just a few small wins can do wonders for your confidence, and as long as you’re making significant progress, any bumps on the road will only knock your confidence slightly, which is easier to recover from.

Small steps

And that leads me onto steps, or small steps in this case. When faced with a challenge, it can be easy to view it as one challenge, one step, one action if you will.

One giant step can make most people think twice before committing to a challenge. However, breaking this giant step down into smaller steps can make it look more manageable than the action of one massive step. As I said previously about confidence, taking something and breaking it down into the smallest bits you can manage can make that giant step look much more easier to accomplish.

I resisted for so long on a couple of projects this year due to the above factors, but having worked through one of these projects, I was surprised to see that I could make it work. Overcoming those factors that contribute to resistance can all of a sudden make that death-march project look more appealing and doable.

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Limiting Your Social Networks

Many of you will know through my posts that I’m a big App.net fan. It’s my goto place when I want to drop in on conversations, strike up news ones with others and also just as a place to post what I am doing. It’s also the one public social network that I participate in.

I’ve never been interested in creating a Facebook account as I simply seeing as being too much of an overhead to maintain. I also deleted my Twitter account this year. It was coincidental that the timing of this action happened at the same time as Twitter were enforcing new rules on the use of their API. I just felt that I wasn’t getting anything back from Twitter in terms of value.

Since switching to a single public social network, I’ve noticed a number of positive things that have occurred as a result of my limiting action.

No more drowning in micro-information

The first thing I immediately noticed was that I was no longer constantly checking my Twitter timeline. Looking back I wonder now why I even had an account there in the first place. It’s a social network for micro-updates that only offers limited information in each post. I did find it interesting hearing what other people were working on, but Twitter’s post limit of 140 characters seriously limits the amount of context you can put on a post.

Less apps and services to use

With just one social network to my name, I have less apps on all my devices. It’s a minor thing but having less apps on my devices means less time updating them, searching for new ones and of course less time checking them. I also work with a ‘one in, one out rule’. As much as possible I will try and keep the number of products and services I use down to a minimum. That means that more often than not, I will replace older apps with new apps rather than running two at the same time.

Less of a digital footprint

I like keeping a small digital footprint. Nothing to do with trying to stay under the radar in terms of the government spying on you, but more to do with my own data and it’s safety. As soon as I stop using a product or service I try and delete the account I had with that product or service. I do this because I don’t want my login details lying around on another companies database when it doesn’t need to.

It’s not for everyone

Limiting yourself isn’t for everyone, but it was amazing to see how little I depended on Twitter after just a couple of weeks of deleting my account. I used to think of social networks as places to find more information on topics, but the truth is that I find everything I need in the form of blogs, newsletters and podcasts.

I now see social networks as more of a place for conversation. Fortunately App.net does this aspect of interaction very well and I’m happy to remain a paying subscriber to it.

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Removing the Digital Deadwood

Programmers have always got old code lying around. Forgotten applications, libraries, ideas and other files and folders. Remnants of days perhaps when ideas were rife and ambitions were high. I have those days as well. I have an idea for something, I mock up a quick test with some code and then most of the time decide that it’s not simply worth my time investing in it further. What remains behind is a filing system littered with dead folders and files.

Today I started cleaning up those dead end projects.

I deleted old applications that I’m not hosting anymore, deleted ideas for applications and products that I know are not going to work and also deleted a few repositories from Github account. I cleared out a few forked repositories that I had high ambitions of working on but haven’t contributed to them.

From there I then started to remove a few applications from my MacBook Pro. I only deleted a few applications, but better to remove them than to have them sitting idly doing nothing. More deadwood gone.

Then I moved onto the online tools and services I subscribe to and removed a couple of them also. A few more dollars back in my pocket each month and that great feeling of removing yourself from a service or subscription that might distract you with an email each week, but you quickly delete it.

Just like clearing your desk or work environment of deadwood files, folders and other junk on your desk, it’s also important to remove the digital deadwood as well. Start with your laptop or tablet and remove the applications you don’t use, the old folders and files that are no longer relevant. Once your immediate work environment is clear, move on to your work environment in the cloud and trim those services that you don’t use anymore.

Keeping a clean digital environment is just as important as keeping your physical work environment clear. You might just end up saving yourself some money or even getting some space back on your laptop. Even better, you might just have rid yourself of a few unwanted notifications each month.

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What Is LinkedIn For?

Yesterday I read a blog post about a LinkedIn user who was unhappy with the service and had opted to delete his account. I’ve been here before as well.

Back in my previous job as an ERP developer, I wasn’t actively using my LinkedIn account and the only emails and connections I got were from recruiting agencies.

Why am I on this network and what is it for? I simply couldn’t get my head around the right way to use LinkedIn. I spoke to a few people about it and all of the said you must be on LinkedIn, even if it’s just to have your details there and you never use it again.

Rather than going with the advice of many I spoke to, I deleted my LinkedIn account.

A couple of years rolled by and I changed jobs twice. It wasn’t until the end of last year that I re-created my LinkedIn profile due to the fact that I had been paid off. I wanted to broaden my scope for a job so wide that I was willing to go back on LinkedIn and have my profile searchable by everyone there.

Now that I am grudgingly back on LinkedIn, I’m back to where I was previously, what is LinkedIn for? I understand that as a network, LinkedIn does require some time to be spent on it updating your profile, making new connections, sharing interesting links, taking part in LinkedIn’s groups, but I tend to forget about doing this and it’s only when I receive a notification that I end up spending five minutes or so reviewing my profile, maybe adding a skill to my profile that I have picked up in the last couple of months.

Faced with the prospect of deleting my LinkedIn account again or just sucking it up and trying to invest some time in my LinkedIn profile, I’ve decided to opt for the latter. I should be using LinkedIn to market myself as a freelance Rails developer, but how do I go about doing this? Here’s one idea I had:

Sharing Rails How To Guides - In order to attract clients to my profile, I should write a number of “how to” guides on using Rails and share these on LinkedIn. These won’t be small blog posts, but in fact detailed guides to some aspect of implementing a generic feature in a Rails application that will demonstrate my knowledge of Rails and what I can offer in terms of knowledge as a developer.

I’m still slightly perplexed by LinkedIn as a network and what I can do to make better use of it. Perhaps you have some idea on using LinkedIn effectively? If so, contact me with your thoughts on using LinkedIn. I’d like to get more out of LinkedIn rather than it just sitting there not doing very much.

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My tips for keeping a journal

Keeping a journal seems quite an easy task to do, but remembering to update it and keep it going can be something else. I’ve kept my journal going for 18 months now and these little tips are what have helped me journal for this long.

Set a reminder

Set a reminder for your to do your journal entries. Last thing at night before you read a book or an hour before you go to bed are ideal times. Any kids you have will be sleeping, so you’ll get a few minutes of distraction free writing.

Setting this reminder will hopefully turn into a habit where you will pre-empt the reminder and journal every day without being prompted by a reminder. If you find yourself forgetting to journal, then simply set up your reminder again.

Journal just two or three sentences at a time

Keeping a journal doesn’t mean you should be writing epic chapter length journal entries every night. Just two or three sentences are sufficient. If you want to write more then do so, but just a summary of the day is sufficient for those non-eventful days.

Keep your journal close

Whether it’s pen and paper or journaling with your preferred app, keep your journal close for those times when you want to write something down. You never know when you’re going to want to write something down.

Don’t knock yourself for missing a day

Journaling every day can be difficult. Family life, career, holidays, work trips and other things can distract you from journaling for a day. If you miss a day then don’t worry about it. It’s only one day. Get back to writing a journal entry the following day and make sure your reminder is set for a few more days until you get back into the habit of writing a journal entry every day.

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Have annual reviews had their day?

Yesterday I talked about annual reviews and how organisations can often get a simple process wrong, but are annual reviews immediately flawed due to their annual occurrence?

A year is a long time. A lot can happen in a year. I left a job, started a new job, got made redundant from the new job and then started freelancing all within a year. I hope you’re not as unlucky me to get made redundant, but maybe you move about a lot inside an organisation? What if you’re never in the same job for more than a couple of years. Does that make the annual review a redundant process?

In the UK there has been a rise in the last few years of self-employed workers and recently portfolio careers have proved to be popular with workers who want more of a variety in their career. The job for life is gone, so why are organisations still subjecting their workers to annual reviews?

Perhaps a more agile approach is needed with more frequent feedback. A year between reviews is too long, but what about quarterly reviews of your work with your line manager? How about monthly? At what point would your line manager know that you are enjoying your job and making a positive contribution to the company?

As a freelancer I have to continually look at my skill set and improve on areas that are rusty and also consider new programming languages and frameworks every few months. I have a core skill set that I am strong with but I also have to consider other skills if I want to make myself attractive to future clients. I give myself a review every month so that I know what work I have completed, whether I have completed it on time and what is in the pipeline ahead for me. I can afford to do this though as it is just me.

I’m just glad I don’t need to sit through anymore annual reviews for the foreseeable future.

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The Annual Review Done Right

It was my oldest son’s parents night at his school tonight. We had a fair idea what his teacher was going to say about him and his progress. We weren’t disappointed.

The format is simple. You get 10 minutes with the teacher in which time they will go over the your child’s progress (that you have already read the week before) and then you get to ask any questions about your child and identify any area where they can try and make improvements. Fortunately our son is doing great so there was just a couple of minor areas for him to improve on.

If you think the format is familiar then you would be right. Parents night is just the kiddie version of the annual review that many permanent workers go through. However, how is it that organisations can get this wrong when the basic format seems so simple?

I’ve experienced the annual review first hand in a number of companies. Very few of them actually did an annual review on a regular basis and even fewer followed through from the previous annual review.

A neighbour of mine worked in a really well known international bank where annual reviews were not done by your line manager but by someone even higher up. In an organisation such as this where the number of employees runs into thousands, there was a good chance that the person doing your annual review doesn’t even know you to look at. In this case our friend did indeed get their annual review done by a director who had only met him twice. Not exactly a good example of an annual review.

Twice a year my son’s school give a parents night without fail. They provide a report for your child that you get a week before parents night so that you can raise any questions during parents night. They give feedback on your child’s progress and give suggestions on areas where your child can improve. They do it for all the kids in the school. That’s hundreds of kids.

It’s not hard to do.

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Keeping a schedule

Last week I started work on an idea for application. Just a small prototype of the idea really. No tests, no fancy user-interface, just the bare bones of the idea. In typical agile fashion I wrote out some of the basic features that I needed for the prototype as user stories on index cards and then set to work. Then a call from a client came in and before I know it, it’s two days later and I’ve not started work on the prototype.

My problem is that I’m starting client work as it comes in and my own projects are getting done in really small pieces. I am not keeping a daily schedule.

Truth is I haven’t kept a schedule of my work for at least a couple of years now. Not since I worked at a consultancy where you could plan your day most days. There was days where you would have interruptions to your schedule, but as it was customer support calls, you had determine if the customer’s support issue was that important that it had to be resolved there and then. With interruptions like this mounting on daily basis, I abandoned my calendar of work and just did work ad-hoc.

Now though I am more in control of my own time and schedule. I am my own company and I need to schedule work to ensure that client work gets done most days, but I also allow for some time to work on ideas and products.

Scheduling your work in a calendar is a commitment to getting that work done. I have the benefit of having a laptop with an external monitor so I use my laptop as my secondary screen. On here I have my calendar and I leave it open while I am working as a reminder to stay focused on the task I have set myself.

I’m using Apple’s Calendar application and the iCloud service to synchronize my calendar to my phone. This makes it easy for me to schedule stuff in my calendar when I am away from my desk. I use the brilliant Fantastical app to manage my calendar from my phone. It has a great agenda view for upcoming appointments and it has a very easy appointment entry system that means you don’t need to fill in four different fields to make an appointment. It’s smart enough to know that “10am Meeting with client” should be scheduled for 10am.

Scheduling your day and your week is a great way to making a commitment to getting things done. It’s more structured than a to do list, but provides a way of breaking your day down into chunks so that you’re not working on the same thing for hours or days at a time.

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Breathing space

When I worked for an ERP consultancy, I would frequently no sooner get my backside at my desk in the morning before the phone would start to ring. Customers looking for support, developers asking for tests to be done and the managing director looking for that new feature for the high profile client of the week. Some days I would simply keep working right from the moment I got to my desk through to home time without a thought about working on the right things. Then I would realize that the day has completely passed by and I’m not even sure if I had done what I originally set out to do that day.

It was at this point that I started giving myself 5 minutes each day of breathing space. At the start of each day I would block out some time to get my day into order. Just a chance to ask myself a couple of questions:

  • Did I leave anything undone from the previous day?
  • Are there any high priority issues that I need to resolve today?

Once I got into the habit of doing this I started to see where my day was going and the progress (or lack of) that I was making. Updates for customers were taking too long, support calls were being left for too long and most days I wasn’t doing the work that I wanted to do.

Once I spotted these recurring issues, I started to clear them off my backlog of work one at a time. Each day I was making this list smaller and smaller. I was starting to see some real progress.

I do this little routine every day now. It’s just a few minutes of my time, but the benefits are worth it. I’ll sit down with my notebook and review the previous day’s work and pull forward any outstanding tasks to today. I’ll then check my master list on TaskPaper and include any work that is scheduled for today or the current week.

Now that I am freelancing and working from home, it’s important that I continually measure my progress and ensure that I am always making progress on projects and products but more importantly on client work. I need to deliver good results for my clients and ensure they are getting value for money.

Having this little moment of breathing space is a great way to start the day. It’s just a few minutes of time reflecting on what you need to get done today, but it is time well spent.

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RSS is not dead

While trawling through my RSS feeds looking for blogs to unsubscribe from, I came across Andrew Chen’s blog post about his decision to completely remove the RSS feed from his site.

As of today, I’ve removed the links the RSS feeds on this blog, and ultimately will phase them out completely in favor of email.

RSS I quit you.. by Andrew Chen

Not a wise decision in my eyes and here’s why.

Your inbox isn’t an RSS reader

Using email to subscribe to web sites only works for a handful of blogs. You could comfortably subscribe to about five blogs and you would be able to manange reading a few emails a week from these blogs if they were not to frequent. Doing this for anything in the double digits number of blogs is a bad idea.

I don’t want to flood my inbox with tons of emails from different blogs. Thats why I use RSS. That’s why I use a RSS reader. I subscribe to the sites that I want to follow and then I can batch my reading of those sites to a time that suits me.

It’s convenient and it works.

RSS isn’t dead

Many people are starting to wonder if Google Feedburner will be next for the chop from Google but even if it was to be shut down, that’s no indication to say that RSS is dying or dead. All it says is that Google isn’t interested in dealing with a an RSS product.

RSS is alive and well everywhere. You can still find RSS feeds for millions of blogs and websites and Feedly are doing a great job of bringing over hundreds of people from Google Reader to their feed reading service. In the last few years there have a number of great RSS feed readers released on tablets and smartphones so that you read on the go.

Completely removing the RSS feed from your blog is a bad idea. After reading Andrew’s post I found another website that I can unsubscribe from.

Sorry Andrew.

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Ideas breed more ideas

I had an idea for an application, so I stuck it into Journalong for later. Two seconds after saving it, I had another idea for an application. Put that in too.

I find this happens quite a lot. Ideas seem to breed more ideas in a short period of time and usually the ideas have something in common. In this case the applications I thought about building were very similar but for different audiences.

Whether I will do anything with them is another matter. The next step will be to flesh them out a bit more with a mind map and see if there is potential in the idea and ask myself some questions.

  • Do I want to build this thing?
  • Will I benefit from building it?
  • Can I monetize this idea? (I ask myself this a lot these days)

If I can answer yes to all these questions, I’ll start work on it or schedule it in for later if I’m currently busy. Always having a good side project to work on is a great way to keep on learning.

If I answer no to any of these the idea gets scrapped there and then.

This little workflow has worked well for me in the past. Weeding out the good ideas from the bad ideas means I spend less time on an idea that isn’t going to benefit me in some way.

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The advantage of plain text

Today I spent an hour getting a script in place that will convert the Wordpress backup of my old Squarespace blog to Markdown posts so that I can pull them into my Octopress blog.

The script itself is almost there but one thing I noticed was how inherently easy it is to work with plain text.

For years I’ve had the chance of working with a number of different file formats. Some good, some bad. The good ones though were always the formats that contained little or no markup. Not only do they contain less markup, they also require simpler tools to work with them.

Plain text has that advantage.

One thing I will consider in the future when signing up to products and services on the web is how simple the data format is when I need to export data from that service. I’d rather not be wrestling with a difficult to work with file format when simpler formats already exists.

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To specialise or not?

My career has been quite varied when you look at the different sectors I’ve worked in. NHS, risk management, payroll, retail and technology repair and recycle. I’ve worked in a number of other different sectors as an ERP developer as well but largely these were for small periods of time where you rarely get a chance find out a lot about the domain of the business.

Since I started freelancing at the start of the year, I’ve been working largely on public health and information websites for NHS related organisations. Not only do I get to work with my favourite development tools and languages every day but I also get to work in my favourite domain. Health.

I don’t know what the attraction is to health but I find it an interesting domain to work in. Providing tools for health organisations to share information with their patients so that they can lead healthier lives is quite rewarding in my view. Over the last couple of moths I’ve even found myself reading NHS related publications to broaden my knowledge of the work I am doing at the moment. I’ve never done that for any job that I to have had.

It’s got me thinking about whether its worth specialising in health contracts or should I stick to working in different domains to keep things fresh? Working in different domains sure would broaden my experience and there might be another sector that I would be interested in. However health is already such a varied domain that could provide some diversity.

I suppose the real question is this. Which one will allow a steady income of work for the near future?

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Putting up a breakwater

It’s been a while since I went through all the incoming data I receive and did some house keeping on them. Over the last few weeks I’ve been increasingly adding more and more waves of content that come to me. Anything related to freelancing invariably gets added, but I’m now at the stage where I’ve spread myself to thin. There’s podcasts I haven’t listened to in the couple of weeks, books sitting on my reading list that haven’t been bought, and RSS feeds that I need to unsubscribe from.

It’s time to put up a breakwater.

Books

One technical book. One non-technical book.

That’s the rule I employed a few years ago, but in the last year it’s been thrown out the window and I’ve only been reading one book every few months. Part of the reason for this is that I’ve simply been distracted by other things. Home life, career, finances, programming, gaming, movies and other things have meant that I just haven’t read as much. This isn’t about limiting what I’m reading, but having more time to read by limiting other distractions.

Podcasts

Since I started freelancing I’ve been subscribed to a number of podcasts that focus on this topic and on the Ruby programming language. Truth be told, I haven’t listened to anything on this topic in the last month. It’s merely due to the length of the podcasts themselves. At over an hour each, I find it too long to listen to these. I’ll be unsubscribing to all podcasts with the exception of three. I haven’t decided which three yet, but I need to put a limit in place here if I’m to get any use out of them.

RSS Feeds

I’m currently sitting at just over one hundred RSS feeds in Feedly. Quite a lot if you ask me. My aim is to get this down to 50. Maybe two or three RSS feeds for each topic and selection of my favourites to take it to 50. I could never completely stop using RSS feeds. I find it such a convenient way of reading good content from my favourite blogs.

Half the feeds I simply skip over these days as I’ve found that some blogs just aren’t that active anymore.

Subscriptions

This is paid subscriptions to things such as Railscasts or Caesura Letters.

I’ve got a couple of subscriptions in here that I could do without for the moment. Cutting the subscriptions back that I don’t need at the moment would give me back time to be doing other things.

One thing I have found though is that the email subscriptions I have can largely replace some of the blogs that I am following. Although this does mean more emails hitting my inbox, but my email is quite healthy these days with everything labeled and routed to the appropriate folder when it arrives in my inbox.

I want to make things

Rather than digesting, I need to be producing. Whether it’s a service, product, application or some writing, I’d much rather be making things than reading about what others are doing. In the past I’ve been guilty of worrying too much about what others think and maybe distracted myself with a dig into what’s in my RSS feeds that day. Maybe it’s time to get over that and simply produce something that will intentionally make people think.

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Do you blog for you or your readers?

Content is king. I hear this a lot when people refer to what drives the popularity of their blog. Which is okay when your blog is targeted as a specific audience, but does the same rule apply when your blog is personal?

Let me re-phrase that. Is your blog for you or your readers?

I’ve been very much of the mind that my blog has an audience. Not a specific audience but an audience all the same. My audience likes what I write. Since moving to Octopress though, I have been struggling about what to do with the content of my tumblelog. My heart says to include all the content here, but my head says no.

My tumblelog is a mixed bag of stuff including fixies, tech news and an assortment of links to my favourite posts on the blogs that I like to read. I like posting these things as it’s what I like, but I’d still like to continue with a daily essay style post.

One way to maintain two audiences but in the same blog is to provide another RSS feed for readers to subscribe to. One feed will default to only the daily posts that I write while another feed will provide the full assortment of posts to enjoy. This way I hope to blog for myself but also keep the interest of readers in mind by not polluting their feed with posts they don’t want to read.

If you continue to enjoy the daily posting routine of myself then stick with the current RSS feed. If you want something more varied then why not think about subscribing to the full assortment of stuff I’ll be posting? The new feed will be ready early next week and of course I’ll be posting the details here.

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A little idea for monitoring RSS feeds

The loss of Google Reader as an RSS reader is a great shame but one thing that I am definitely going to miss is the trends page of Google Reader. This page provided data on what you’ve been reading and when you were reading it. Not only that but you could see what blogs you are following are active and which are not.

I use the last feature as a way of unsubscribing from blogs that are no longer active. Every month I look back to see which blogs were not active over the last three months and unsubscribe from them.

So now that Google Reader is being killed off, what do I do about the tracking of the blogs that I follow?

Due to the lack of products that I could find that do this, I thought about rolling my own RSS watch list so that I could see which blogs were not active over a given time period.

The idea is simple. You upload your OPML file of your RSS feeds and the watch list will monitor your feeds on a daily basis always checking to see when content on each blog feed was last posted. Alerts are emailed to you when a feed stops posting after a number of days that you specify.

A simple idea and one that I hope that I can build in the next few weeks.

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Reviewing the master list

It’s become clear to me that there’s far too much stuff on my master list. It’s things that I want to do, but I’ve started reaching too far forward into the future and starting noting stuff down that I want to do but I won’t be able to do for at least six months.

Speculating on what I should be doing in months is no good. I need to see a short term list of things that I can be working on now rather than later. My master list is also slightly unbalanced.

One thing I can do about the issue of the number of items in my master list is to adopt an idea from Kanban boards. In a previous role in an agile team, we kept a backlog of development cards that represented application changes that were next in line to be worked on.

In order to keep my master list lean but still keep a note of stuff for the future, I’m going to keep a separate backlog file that contains actions for projects that I want to do in the future but perhaps don’t have the time in the near future. Doing this and reviewing it once a month will also mean that I can just forget about my backlog until I have cleared everything from my master list.

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Comfortable tools

Software developers love their text editors. Those developers that invest a significant amount of time in one particular text editor are able to wield it with the proficiency a level 20 warrior. They’ll slice and dice the code with the mininal number of gestures needed. They have all the commands they need memorised right down to the last keystroke combination. Text editors are the primary weapon of software developers and so they need to know how to this tool with great effect if they want to make their day a productive one.

I chose Sublime Text 2 as my main text editor a couple of years ago. I just find it easy to work with. I know the commands that I need, I spent a fair amount of time getting the right plugins and setting them up so that they work well for me and of course I’ve tried hundreds of themes before getting the one that just feels right. So if I’m so happy with my chosen text editor, why the hell do I keep wanting to try another tool?The other tool I am referring to is Vim. It’s a text editor that is used by thousands of people and is over 20 years old. Every year, I ask myself, “Did I give Vim enough of a chance?”

I’ve tried Vim a few times as a replacement for Sublime but every time I try it, I find something that I don’t like and go back to Sublime. Fast forward a few months and I do the same thing again. For the last three years, I think I’ve tried Vim about five times. I’m not talking about a couple of days, I’m talking about a full on month of use. However, at the end of each month I simply switch back to Sublime. Is it a comfort thing? It might be.

Vim is a great text editor but I just don’t feel that comfortable using it.​

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Are you automating?

Automation. The programmer’s best friend. Programmers automate as much as they can. Setting up a new computer, building servers and testing software are just some of the areas where we like to automate things. We hate typing in four commands where one will do. Automation saves so much time.

Not everyone is a programmer though. So how can you automate your interactions with your computer so that you’re not doing as many manual tasks?

###Check your application settings

Lots of applications and services now integrate with other applications and settings. Instapaper for example allows me to save the articles that I like to my Pinboard account. After I set this up in the Instapaper settings page, I can then like an article and it will be saved to Pinboard for me. This is just a small example of the automation you can achieve. Baked in settings to applications is great but what if you want more automation?

###Checkout IFTTT

IFTTT is a service that allows you to create recipes for the different services that you use. It will then run these recipes when they are triggered. Each recipe contains a trigger and an action. When the trigger is fired the respective action is carried out.

An example of this in action is the monthly redux blog post that I put out at the start of each month. It is a list of the previous month’s blog posts on my blog. Rather than writing this by hand though, I can let IFTTT do the work for me.

When my recipe detects a new item on my blog’s RSS feed, it then writes the title of the blog post and a link to it to a text file in my Dropbox account.

At the end of the month I cut the contents of this file and paste it into my blog’s content editor and use it as the content for my new monthly redux blog post.

In order for IFTTT to work effectively, it needs to have access to the services that you use. You may not be comfortable doing this, but I find that it’s a great way to automate tasks that I would normally do by hand in the past.

Being able to defer manual tasks to services that automate them for you saves you time. Not only that, it lets you get on with more important tasks. This week watch out for manual tasks that you could be automating. Even if you can save a few minutes off your day, it’s going to add up over the year. And that’s time not wasted.

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Talk to your client

One of the greatest challenges I’ve had in my career as a software developer is that of expectations. Twenty years ago when the waterfall methodology ruled, you developed in isolation for months on end, passed it to a test team and then onto the client. After months of work, it was common to get the final product passed back to you. The reason was that the client’s expectations were not the same as yours. Months of work wasted.Now though, we have agile methodologies that allow us to work closely with the client and work in much smaller chunks, delivering code weekly or even daily for the client. At this fast pace it’s easy to meet the client’s expectations as we are only working in smaller periods and only delivering smaller sections of the final product for the client.

I’ve been working this way for a couple of clients over January and February and it’s been really successful but the reason isn’t just the continual delivery of features and fixes for the client, the main reason is that I am always in communication with my client. I chat to my clients daily, often more than once a day when working with them.Foggy details are a sure fire way to miss the clients expectations, which leads to wasted time for both you and your client. You can’t assume to know what your client will want, but you can make an educated guess. However, what you should be doing is talking to your client and clarifying any details you are not sure about.

If I have a question or I’m not sure, I ask the client to clarify their expectations on what I am hoping to deliver for them. I hate to be wrong and I hate to be wasting my clients time by not meeting their expectations.​

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Tips on getting through your RSS feeds faster

Let me get this clear to start with. I only use my RSS reader to scan feeds from blogs that I am subscribed to. This post is just tips for getting through your RSS feeds without taking the time to read anything.

Group your feeds

Grouping your feeds is a great way to batch feeds for scanning. I group my feeds into a number of groups based on the general topics of each feed. I have groups for web development, tech businesses, bikes, picture blogs and online products and services I use.

Grouping feeds in this way means that when you scan the feeds, you’re scanning a particular topic rather than scanning a list of feeds of completely different topics.

Scan the headlines

Don’t read everything. Unless you’re following between 10 and 20 blogs, you’ll never be able to read everything in a short period of time. Instead scan the headlines of your feeds for interesting posts.

I used to read everything in my feeds in case I missed something, but reading everything takes a long time. Yes, scanning the headlines of your feeds might means you miss an interesting post, but you’ll get through your feeds a lot faster.

Use a read it later service like Instapaper

RSS readers are great for categorising and scanning your feeds, but I like to use a separate service for reading. Many RSS readers let you favourite individual articles and send them to another service like Instapaper so that you can read them at a later date.

Read it later services also let you collect articles for reading at a later date when it suits you. I tend to get through my feeds first thing in the morning. I favourite posts I want to read later. When I favourite my posts, they are sent to my Instapaper account so that I can read them later on. Many RSS readers have this feature built in and read it later services like Instapaper also have settings that let you import favourite posts from your RSS reader.

Keep a list of blogs to scan daily

I have a group of feeds that I want to scan on a daily basis. I scan this group every day first thing. It’s a collection of blogs of varying topics, but they’re blogs that I find highly valuable and therefore they’re the blogs I scan every day.

Trim dead or rarely posted feeds

I don’t subscribe to a feed that posts once a month or less frequently. I like content on at least a weekly basis from a feed. Every 2 or 3 months I check the feeds I am subscribed to determine if they’re still delivering a steady stream of content. Google Reader is great for this as it tracks the stats of each the feeds you have subscribed to. Staying on top of your feeds this way means that you can delete stale feeds and therefore have less headlines to scan.

RSS feeds and readers have fallen out of fashion with many on the Internet, but as long as people are still blogging, there will always be a place for RSS readers to consume these blogs.

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The Daily Checklist

In an effort to be more productive, healthy and fit I’ve decided to keep a daily checklist for work days so that I can start tracking progress on my day. Here’s the list I’ve decided to center on for weekdays:

  • Do one major important task - Ideally this will be completing some work for a complete or working on a feature for one of my own products.
  • Do one minor important task - This is really a secondary bit of work for a client or for myself. If my major task is for a client, then I will always try and complete a task on one of my own products for that day.
  • Eat a healthy portion of fruit and vegetables - I’m not fanatical about my weight, but I do like to eat sensibly. Making sure I have a good portion of fruit and vegetables at least once a day is a good starting point to eating better.
  • Workout or go for a walk - To coincide with changes to the diet, I’m also looking to get some exercise in during the day. Starting from next week, I’ll be walking my son to school every morning and I’m also going to fit in a couple of runs a week. Sitting at a desk all day as your job can be brutal on your body, so it’s a good idea to stretch your legs when you can.
  • Journal - Lastly, the journal entry. A time for reflection on the day and to log idea, progress, notes and other stuff. I do this a few times a day but I try to write a summary at the end of the day.

I haven’t bothered setting a list for the weekend, as it’s not really important to have a checklist on days like this. The weekend should be a work-free zone anyway and as long as I get some time to spend with the family and relax then I’m happy.

I’m doing this for the month of March to see if I can get some kind of order in my work day. One thing I’ve found about freelancing is that the day can quickly run away from you and before you know it, you haven’t completed any of the things you set out to do at the start of the day. Embedding these five habits should ensure that I keep my clients happy, I make progress on my own projects and I keep myself healthy.

I’m using Habit List to track my daily habits but there’s a lots of other habit tracking apps or methdos you can use instead.

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Learning

As a web developer I tend to focus on the back end of the implementation of web sites and applications. It’s what I do and what I am good at, however I’m not shy to put together a basic front end design for a website if I have to. However that’s where my skills start to dwindle. I understand all the concepts of front end design and I know enough best practices to get by but I lack the confidence and knowledge to really put out a professional design.

There’s always the argument for professionals as to whether they should generalise or specialise. I would like to specialise in a couple of web frameworks that use my favourite programming language, however the web and the technology that is used by it and on it is increasing daily. Which is why I want to generalise on these fringe technologies.

I’m starting to consider expanding my skills by signing up to Treehouse for some online learning in web design, building iOS applications and Wordpress.

As a web developer you should be familiar with the building blocks that make up a web page and how it can be styled but this can only get you so far. I’ve worked on this basic knowledge for a long time now, but now I want to take my work to a higher level of quality which is why I’m looking towards learning more about web design.

Mobile applications are everywhere. There’s simply no getting away from them. Most online services and products have a mobile application to connect to their service, and while I prefer the idea of using websites on my smartphone, there is a place where native applications definitely excel. As a first learning exercise I am going to start building an iOS application for my Journalong product this year. Journalong works well on my iPhone but I want less in the interface of Journalong when it’s used on the go. I just want to write and save it to my journal. It will be a good initial project to start on with Jouralong.Finally there’s Wordpress. Like or not, Wordpress is still the king of blogging platforms. It’s been a success story on the Internet form the early years and today there is such a vibrant community of Wordpress designers and developers that have formed as a result of the success of the open source blogging platform. Why am I interested in Wordpress? Curiosity really. I want to know how difficult it is to pick up Wordpress from a developers point of view and implement a small website with it.

I would like to say that the current range of content management systems offered in the Rails community are better, but the truth is that Wordpress is so much easier to work. If a client approached me and asked what blogging platform would I recommend then I would have to say Wordpress.

At the end of the day taking care of your career is something that everyone needs to do. If I can improve my career with a few new skills then why not. After all, it should improve my appeal to clients as a web developer with a more rounded set of knowledge on not just web development but also the technology that makes use of the web.

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We need more simple products

The fixed gear bike. Two wheels. One gear. Brakes, optional. Simple really. And that’s the reason why the fixed gear bike is loved by many cyclists. It’s a simple bike. Amongst it’s carbon fibre, multi-geared brethren, it looks out of place, but it has a special place in the hearts of many cyclists. It’s a bike with a single function, it just lets you ride.

Now take a look at Pop, the text editor for iOS from Minimal Tools. A single page text editor that offers no settings, no file management facilities, no synchronising with Dropbox. In fact there aren’t any features about it. All you can do is write something with it and then copy what you have written to the clipboard. Why the hell would you want to buy this app then when all editors for iOS do this?

Well Pop does one thing that no other editor I have does. It doesn’t distract me. It doesn’t have anything to distract me with. It just lets me write.

We need more products like Pop and fixed gear bikes. Simple things that do one thing really well. Simple products let you do what you really want to do without any distractions.

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Be Present

This was supposed to be this year’s theme but I opted for being independent instead in light of my recent foray into the world of freelancing. I thought I would take a minute to outline what being present is, and why I was going to make it my theme for the year.

The world we live is increasingly dominated by technology and distractions. Ironically what you’re reading right now is a distraction, but let’s just say it’s a good distraction.

Anyway, technology and distractions. Being a dad of two kids means that you are inevitably in the presence of other parents and their kids a lot of the time. One thing that I notice is the number of parents that are glued to their mobile phones when they are in the presence of their kids.

On one of our frequent trips to the driving range last year, I decided to treat my son to a round of crazy golf there. During our game, I noticed that the mum in the family in front of us was checking her phone every minute. She spent more time with the phone in her hand than her putter. The sad part was that while her kids were trying to impress her with their putting abilities, the mum was too pre-occupied with her phone to even notice. She wasn’t being present with her kids.

Being present for me means your undivided attention. Since observing this I’ve become more aware of the time and attention I am giving to my family. I generally turn my phone off at night now after dinner. It’s so that I can be present at home, mentally and physically, without any distractions putting me off. I don’t want my kids to remember me as having my head buried in a phone all the time. I want them to remember all the times that I was present for them.

It doesn’t always work out this way though, but I’m learning to schedule my freelancing work during the day and to limit my time using technology at night and at the weekend. Being present might not be this years theme for myself, but I’m more and more aware of it every time I go to check my phone or pick up the iPad for a quick surf. 

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Always be learning

One of Patrick Rhone’s latest posts is his list of tools for daily learning. Patrick’s list is a great place to start for daily learning and I’m glad to see that there’s a couple of tools there that I use myself. I’ve never considered them as learning tools but that’s what they are really. Tools for discovering new things and learning.

My take on it is to always be learning. Never stop learning.

My first exposure to computer programming came when I was about ten when my Granpa bought an Atari 800XL. Right from the moment he got it, he immersed himself in programming books and magazines. As a kid you wouldn’t give it any thought, but now when I think back I think it was amazing that given my Granpa’s age, he was still learning on a daily basis.

This way of thinking that you should always be learning is something I’ve tried to do for the last few years, but along the way I usually forget things. I’ve learned the hard way that I need to keep a journal for such things so that I can review it at a later date.

My daily learning comes in the form of technical things like programming languages, web frameworks and other web development related topics. I’ve also read up on topics like decision making, writing and of course I’m reading through the Aubrey-Maturin series, which his made me much more knowledgeable of 19th century naval warfare.

The benefits of daily learning are just that. Daily learning. Being that bit more wiser on a daily basis. I’ll never stop reading, writing, learning and discovering new things. Having a blog to write about my learning experiences when I’m in my seventies? I hope so.

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One to one networking

I previously wrote about the importance of maintaining your professional network. Today we’re going to talk about the same thing, except in the real world.

I’m not one for attending mass networking events. These events are good if you want to find new contacts or be introduced to someone for the first time, but for existing contacts I prefer a more focused meeting. One to one networking if you like.Let me tell you about my mate John.

We worked together about ten years ago for a software vendor specialising in risk management software for health organisations. I loved the job and I loved working with John. He frequently used mind mapping to discuss problems in our software and always provided a great service to our customers. When we were all made redundant, me and John decided to stay in touch.

Over the last decade, I’ve met up with John about every four months. When each of us are armed with a coffee and a cake, the conversations goes from family life to careers and technology. We talk about ideas for software products, interesting applications, risk management, decision tools and more. The majority of the conversations always falls back to ideas for risk management and decision tools for the web.

It’s a great chance to catch up with a good friend, but it also gives me the chance to find out what’s happening in his career, his contacts and whether they are any opportunities for career moves. It’s times like this that I appreciate the one to one nature of conversation. The conversation is fast, detailed and always leads to an idea or two. No email, no messaging, no smoke signals. You can’t file this meeting away for later like you would an email or message, and then forget about it. While networking through the digital world is necessary, so is meetings like this. Whether it’s frequent or not, the chance to find out what’s happening, discuss ideas and ventures can always lead to an opportunity to further your career or skills.

The next time you find someone on LinkedIn that you want to connect with, remember the people you currently have in your network. When was the last time you had a one to one meeting with someone who influences you?

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Dealing with redundancy

It’s been four weeks now since I was made redundant. In that time I’ve had a chance to reflect on this horrible position that many of us go through. It’s not my first redundancy either and probably won’t be my last, but there’s a number of things I would like to share that may help others get through a similar experience.

Being made redundant from a job is a painful experience to go through, but I think that level of pain relates to the size of the company you are being let go from.

Take for instance my job at a large payroll software and services provider at the start of my career. They were a large company at the time of my redundancy. My role was working on a payroll and personnel product. After nine months though, my development manager moved on to somewhere else and the product was shelved. Fast forward a few months and the company was bought over. I was deemed surplus to requirements by the new parent company and was made redundant.

When I found out I was being made redundant I acted calmly after hearing the news. I realised that even though my line manger was giving me the bad news it wasn’t his fault and there was nothing personal about it.When you work in a large company, chances are you are just another cog in the machine. There are multiple levels of management from the decision makers at the top to those at the bottom and it’s usually very rare that these two levels will mix on a daily basis.

From the way I see it, It was a decision made by others who either didn’t know me or knew very little of me. It wasn’t personal, and that’s an important perspective to take on it. Lots of people feel anger when they are made redunandant, but at the end of the day it’s sometimes just about the numbers.

Now my last two redundancies have been made at smaller companies. In each case there were less than ten employees in each company and each time I was made redundant I was more than just annoyed at the news of being let go. I had spent two and five years at each of the respective companies.

With small companies you end up knowing everyone on really good terms, well I do anyway, and you get to know everyone a lot better than you would have at a large company. In this case it can become boiling pot of emotions you feel when you are told by a colleague that you know really well that you are being let go.

In this case you need to handle things a bit differently. Redundancy in a small company is difficult to deal with.In both cases my redundancy came out of nowhere. I had assumed in each case that the company was performing well to that point. Experience has taught me though that in a small company, day to day duties can hide underlying problems the company is having.

In my first redundancy the company was entertaining prospective buyers for a number of months before myself and others were made redundant. It was kept from staff until the announcement that the company was being bought over. the company buy over was announced on the Friday and I was made redundant on the Monday. Pretty fast moving. I completely resented the company owner and the development manager for not at least giving the staff a heads up on the activity of the company. Looking back I wasted a lot of time in a negative place rather than focusing on moving myself onto another position. I did eventually find a new job, but I’ve always thought I was pushed into the job move rather than moving on for better reasons.

In my second redundancy I found myself in a better frame of mind after hearing the bad news.After being told that the company was going through financial problems and I was being let go, I simply gathered my things, said my goodbyes and left. Stepping out the office I was surprised by the swiftness of it starting as another day in a small company to not having a job. I learned from the past that dwelling on the negative and blaming others wasn’t going to get me anywhere. I simply picked myself up and moved on.

The experience of being made redundant from a small company has taught me to expect bad news at the drop of a hat. Working with a small company with people you know well doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be told of any pending bad news on the horizon. And if there is a bad news for the company then you are probably better off being somewhere else.

Also in a small company, you should accept the redundancy for what it is and move on. Regardless of what you think about the company or it’s remaining staff, it’s not going to have any positive input on your prospects for a new job. Accept the redundancy and move on.

A redundancy from a large company has been easier to manage from my experience. It’s largely a decision based on numbers. You get the bad news and then move on. It’s no-one’s fault.

My last piece of advice is to pay attention to the company you are working for regardless of its size. Watch out for news alerts on the company and pay attention to shifts in company size and locations.

When external office locations are shut down, services or products are removed or other departments are closed down, look towards your own department and question it’s viability within the company. Does your department still align with the companies overall objectives?Yes you might just be a line worker and not privvy to what’s going on in the board room, but you can observe how the company is performing. With that knowledge, a redundancy will then at least be expected and not a complete surprise.

Redundancy is sadly a part of the career world that many of us will face, but it doesn’t mean that it needs to be a largely negative affair. When you get the bad news, close the door on it and move on. I did and I feel a whole lot better for it.

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Stop sending 'important' emails

Ever get an email marked as important and then proceeded to wonder why it is so important?

I get them every now and again at work, but what amazes me is that people still send email and mark it as important. Do you really think that little red flag you put on it will automatically kick me into state of tunnel vision, where I stop until the issue in the email is resolved? Be honest, how many times have you received an important email asking you to complete a task and deferred the work to later rather than doing it now. It’s not your fault. You know the task is important, but how important is it really? I think we can all agree that most of the time, it’s not that important.

Email doesn’t convey how important a task is because there is no tone in an email to indicate this. Also, we’ve lived with email so long now that we question every important email that comes into our inbox. How important is it really?If something is so important why waste the time on an email that may or may not get actioned? That little red flag called ‘important’ doesn’t have any magical powers you know.

If you’re about to send an email with a task that you think is important, then stop.

Discard the email and find the phone number of the person you wanted to send that important email to.Phone this person, discuss the task at hand. Provide that person with the all the necessary information that they need to complete the task.

Not only are you conveying how important the task is but you can also clarify any details that you might be asked about it.Next time you’re mouse hovers over the important flag, decide whether the task is so important that it warrants a phone call. Most of the time it won’t be that important, but when it is important, you’ll be glad you conveyed the importance of the task yourself rather than relying on a dumb machine to do it for you.

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Firefighting

Firefighting. I’ve been doing this for most of the last three weeks. It’s the onslaught of unforeseen tasks and issues that take you away from the work you had planned to do. It’s the ad-hoc requests and “emergency” problems that try to rob you of a productive day.There’s nothing less motivating than firefighting most of your time at work and gradually seeing those deadlines slip again and again and again. Thing is, too much firefighting can be averted in most scenarios. Here’s a few tips which I found quite good. It’s mostly common sense, but I sometimes lack this human trait!

  • Identify the source of your firefighting - First of all make sure you know where all your firefighting issues are coming from. The most important step. More likely it’s a single person or organisation than a random number of people or organisations.
  • Filter all incoming fires - Make sure to route all firefighting issues to the right person. As a developer, I’m often mistaken as the “go to guy” for a particular project or software. In reality, these issues should first go to someone else first, before they come to me.
  • Schedule time for firefighting issues - Once the issues have come in, block off some time later on in the day or week for dealing with these issues. It should be a maximum of two hours per day. Spending too much time on firefighting issues is counter-productive and a real motivation killer. Believe me, I’ve been there.
  • Think about a long term solution - Firefighting should be a short term phase. You shouldn’t allow this to be come part of your daily work. When resolving issues of this natrue, ask yourself “could this happen again?”. If the issue probably will, then think about a long term solution that will stop the issue continually coming back to you.

Most firefighting work is work that we can put off for a later part of the day or week.​ Don’t let your day go to pot with putting out fires.

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Stop using email for internal company communication

​I have a love hate relationship with email.I love having a medium that allows me to communicate effectively with others all over the world. Being able to send some thoughts to a family member in Canada, or thanking your mentor for that little motivational book they sent you in the post. Yip, it’s hard to beat email as a form of communication.

Until of course you get to your desk at work at 9am on a Monday morning and the deluge of email in your inbox makes you regret that you didn’t just phone in sick that day. Yes there are ways of dealing with your email on a daily basis that let you work smarter and more effectively by implementing filters and such, but that doesn’t stop people sending email to you.You see, when you work in a team, department or in a small company, email is often that go to tool that let’s one person tell everyone else about something. That’s great, but when email becomes the standard form of communication for ideas, discussions and projects, that’s when you’re going to wish you never opened that your inbox again.

From my experience, I have found that email in the work place is an invasive form of communication that tries to grab your attention from the pressing, but productive work that you are doing. It aims to break your concentration. When you have processed that ‘urgent’ email, you then need to reset your focus and get back to what you were working before you were interrupted. Personally I can do without that kind of distraction.

So what’s the solution? Well it’s easy. Non-invasive forms of communication that let you see with others want you to see without distracting them from their work. Project and task management, customer relationship management, and intranets are all greats ways of communicating with others in your company without interrupting what they are working on. They let your team see the information they need to see and they can act upon that information in their own time.

And don’t be under the impression that the digital world is the only place you can communicate.

The daily stand up is a great way of communicating with your team and shouldn’t be thought as being for developers only. Anyone in a team, should consider the daily stand up where you want a status update from the previous day and to quickly plan what’s going to happen today.

Kanban boards are another great trick I learned to use from my days working in an agile development team. An overview of the work in progress is a great way for everyone to see what’s going on. It also increases verbal communication over work rather than team members continually pinging emails back and forward.

As a rule, email should be the last form of communication in any team, department or small company. There are so many other ways of communicating that are more productive and will also let your colleagues get their work done.

So next time you want to update the team on a project or want to discuss idea, find an alternative to the evil that is email. 

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For me, web apps still rule

Like most people I’ve spent my fair share of money on apps for the iPad, but recently I’ve found that I’m just not using them that often. The problem is that while I like the apps themselves and chose them for their functionality and their ease of use, the freqeuncy with which I use them just isn’t right. When was the last time I wrote anything with iA Writer? I can’t remember.With web apps though, I’m finding that they are more accessible to me during the day at work and at night when I am at home.

I looked at a number of apps for keeping a journal before I ended up writing Journalong, and the same goes for writing. I managed to write a whole book with 750words.com. The only reason I didn’t use it every day after NaNoWriMo was the fact that the pressure to write 750 words became a bit too much. My journal is for every day thoughts, but typerighter is for taking those thoughts and fleshing out something more fuller and richer.

Web apps like Typerighter and Journalong also work well on my mobile devices. I don’t want separate apps for each device I have.Don’t get me wrong, native apps have their places where they don’t require a web interface. However if a service has a web interface with no need for a native app then I will use that service as it’s web interface is easily accessible from the number of different of platforms and devices I use on a daily basis.UPDATE: Since publishing this, I’ve deleted my Typerighter account in favour of writing using Sublime Text 2. Typerighter is a great product if you need a minimal writing interface, but I’ve started using ST2 for writing as it’s easier to pick up my drafts which are kept in Dropbox.​ Maybe I’ll go back to Typerighter when they let you connect to your Dropbox.

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Book store vs Amazon

While browsing through the books at my local Waterstones store, I became aware of how easy it was to pick up books, rifle through them and decide whether to add them to my reading list or not. It’s something I do every month. Flick through a few books at the bookstore, take notes of their titles and then purchase them on Amazon for my Kindle. I’ve never just bought a book on Amazon though.While the purchase of books on Amazon is simple enough, the actual browsing of books isn’t the same as your average book store. At the book store I find that it’s quicker to pick up a book, flick through it, read the synopsis and then decide whether you like it or not.

On Amazon it’s fairly easy to decide on whether a book interests you or not as all the information is there on the book’s product page. Finding that book on Amazon however isn’t as easy as the bookstore method. You can’t glance or scan the books on the Amazon website.

Finding a specific genre or category is easy enough but then you’re met with a massive volume of books displayed in a white spaced grid with tiny images of the books cover.I’d much rather be able to scan the book spines in a horizontal page ordered by author. Just like the bookshelf at the bookstore. They have images of the book cover on the Amazon website, but why not the spine?

They’ve probably already done tonnes of research on this with teams of designers and marketing folks and disagree with my view. For me however, the browsing of books on Amazon just doesn’t compare to the experience of visiting a bookstore.​

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