Category Archives: Getting Things Done
Zen Habits has a very good list of things that will help you simplify your work day.
Most of these I’ve seen before, but here’s a new one (which is sort of similar to other things I’ve seen, but different enough I thought it was worth quoting):
# Practice a focus ritual. Every hour or two, do a refocus ritual. This only takes a minute or two. You might start it by closing down your browser and maybe other open applications, and maybe even take a walk for a couple of minutes to clear your head and get your blood circulating. Then return to your list of Most Important Tasks and figure out what you need to accomplish next. Before you check email again or go back online, work on that important task for as long as you can. Repeat this refocus ritual throughout the day, to bring yourself back. It’s also nice to take some nice deep breaths to focus yourself back on the present.
I’ve been using RescueTime for a while now, and while it hasn’t really improved my productivity, that’s mostly because I’m actually really productive already. And I can prove it thanks to RescueTime.
RescueTime is an software application you install on your computer that tracks the active application and logs that information so you can view it in their web app. You then rate the applications on how productive you are when using them. For example, when I’m using my IDE, I’m clearly being productive. Same when I’m using putty. Not so much when I’m using iTunes.
RescueTime gives you nice little graphs (one of which you can see above) on a daily and weekly basis, and you can also view your productivity by category. They also let you compare to the average of everyone who uses RescueTime and give you a rank based on your percentile.
When I first installed it, I was kind of obsessed with checking and categorizing and scoring everything and trying to get my productivity score as high as possible. When I get busy, I can drop to just checking weekly when it sends me a report via email, and I don’t even really notice it running in the background. When I’m not as overwhelmed, it’s a fun little game to play, and a small little reminder in the system tray to check what application you’re using and how that’s going to affect your productivity score. It’s also a good way to effortlessly track and log your productivity/application usage, which is especially good for people like me who love tracking productivity/output but either spend too much time time tracking stuff in spreadsheets, or go to the other extreme and just give up on tracking completely.
The first is the key to the door, and it’s easy to insert and unlock: Hustle. Simple as that.
If you want to do something: do something. If want want to make progress towards a goal: do something. If you want to learn something (like Matt Nowack in the post): do something. Just keep doing something (hustling) and you will get things done.
So that pretty much covers that. Except, it also leads into the second post, which is: the reason you have to keep hustling.
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During the live Mindsweeping event on Twitter (@GTDSpecialEvent) I was basically writing down all my “mindsweep material” in a plain text document because when I put Next Actions into Remember The Milk, I like to tag them, put them in a context list, and prioritize them right away.*
Of course, after reviewing the items in that text document, I realized that most of them were either Next Actions or Projects that I needed to then copy and paste into RTM.
So, I kind of “redid” the Mindsweep by putting everything into the Inbox list in RTM and didn’t really eliminate a lot of the things that I’d swept out of my mind because, as I said, they had already sprung from my forehead in the form of Next Actions and Projects.
After filling up my RTM Inbox in this way, I was able to essentially conduct the Mindsweep using RTM and eliminated the step of putting the contents of the sweep somewhere else in the mean time. In the future, this will save me the step of transferring items from the “Mindsweep Dustbin” to RTM, and allow me to Organize those items at my leisure. I think that’s an important part of the Mindsweep because it means that I can sweep away everything so that my mind can detach from those items and focus on things I should be doing, while at the same time, I don’t have to spend the time organizing them unless I want to do it at that time (and if I have the time to do it). As Kelly Forrister tweeted during the Mindsweep:
I don’t think I’ve ever looked back after a GTD mindsweep and said, “Damn, I wish I didn’t do that.” It’s always valuable to me.
When I did the first Mindsweep into the text file, I almost did say “Damn, I wish I didn’t do that” because I realized I’d have to copy and paste a whole bunch of stuff that should really have already been in RTM. Now that I have gone back through and realized how easy it is to let RTM be unstructured, I can do sweep my mind more frequently without worrying that it’s going to hurt my productivity (I don’t ever consider Organizing to be unproductive because it always makes me feel good to clarify things).
To finish things off, here is a post from Kelly Forrister about clearing your mind with a Mindsweep.
* This may sound like I’m trying to capture, process, and organize all in one step. Not the case, I say. If it’s going to one of my RTM lists, then it’s already essentially been captured and processed because it has to have passed through one of my inboxen, and I’ve already decided on a Next Action or I wouldn’t be putting it on the list. So, arriving at the point where it’s been captured and I’ve got a Next Action ready means that it is time for organization. Of course, the whole point of this post is that I want to start using RTM as a capture tool in addition to an organization and review tool.
Near the end of this podcast on Organizing, Robert (David Allen’s tech guy) makes the point, basically, that you are the boss of your future self. By “boss” he means, in the traditional 9-5 working for the man way.
Why is that important (as a concept)?
Well, would you rather have your boss just dump a whole bunch of papers on your desk, and say “do these”, or would you prefer a boss who only hands you papers when you need them, or when you don’t have anything else that you’re working (or at least, not anything that’s a higher priority)?
Would you rather have a boss who says “Here’s an entire project, get it done” or a boss who says “Here’s the first task of a project that I need you to get done. Come back to me when you are finished with this small, completable task, and I’ll tell you what to do next”?
In both cases, I’m hoping you opted for the latter. Making that decision one of the essential parts of GTD. By defining specific Next Actions and creating appropriate calendar reminders, you are essentially “managing” your future self in a way that is a Best Practices way of managing someone who works for you.
Rhyme time, baby.
The subject line is in regard to a fault of mine when it comes to personal commitments (like cutting my hair, mowing the lawn, going to the grocery store).
I tend to overestimate the amount of time and effort that are required to do simple activities like those mentioned above, and as a result, I tend to put off doing them.
For example, cutting my hair (I do it myself) takes about 40 minutes including a shower to wash all the excess hair off. I just did it myself recently and it looks a lot better than when I let it grow out and get shaggy. It’s always taken me 40 minutes to do it. Even when I first started more than 10 years ago. And I only do it every 6-8 weeks, so it’s not like it’s a huge time sink, but I often tend to do it closer to 8 weeks when it should be done after 6 just because I “don’t want to take the time” to do it.
This especially applies in the summer time because there are not a lot of higher ROI activities that I can do to make myself feel better than cutting my hair, and still I don’t do it because, in my mind, it’s a chore that takes a lot of time and energy.
Takeaway: Be realistic about the length of time it takes to do tasks that you do on a regular basis. I’m even thinking about making a spreadsheet just so I can stop fooling myself by storing the numbers in my mind and manipulating them “telephone” style whenever it comes time to do them.
I call it the Jack Shephard method, i.e., you either keep it really short, or don’t cut it at all.
Either method will save you both time and money. I usually go with short in the summer and let it grow more in the winter. I had a friend in high school who would shave his head for the city swimming finals in the winter and then let it grow until the next year’s finals. Yeah, he was in high school so he could get away with looking like a ragamuffin for 4-5 months, and he had a good skull for the totally bald look. But, if you can pull it off, think of how much extra time you’ll have if you only cut your hair once a year!
I was worried about wasting a lot of time trying to figure this out, but since there are a few projects at work that are using Drupal, I thought it would be worth it to get some familiarity with the platform. All told, it only took a few hours to get things going, and at least a third of that was getting it configured on the server properly.
How To (Install / Set Up Links)
The first issue I ran into was that I wanted to install Drupal on a subdomain of this site (nelswadycki.com). I assumed that I wanted to set it up so that Drupal would be in a folder like /public_html/mywiki/ mapped to the appropriate subdomain.
After trying a few different queries, I came acorss Install Drupal with Cpanel and Fantastico, which told me to just install Drupal on the root directory and specify the folder in the Fantastico install settings.
After logging in (for the first time!) I immediately went to the User Admin section so that no new users could register.
Then I downloaded/unzipped/uploaded the wikitools module. Then I did the same with the recommended pearwiki filter. (Just a note for novices like me: To get the PearWiki filter to work, you need to get the PearWiki code, as well as the PearWiki MediaWiki parser)
Other modules (as suggested by Patrick Teglia):
- pathauto (for pretty URLs)
- token (required by pathauto)
FCKEditor for WYSIWYG editing*+
A couple other small notes: In order to get it fully working the way I wanted, I created a “Book” from the first Wiki Page I added, and put the “Book” navigation at the top of the left sidebar (in the Default theme). I am totally in love with the hierarchical navigation and all the other navigation methods provided by the Book module.
Now I get to play around with all the different themes! :) (Or more importantly, copy over all the data that I had in my previous wiki – hosted at wetpaint [which I highly recommend if you can’t host your own Drupal instance]) And truth be told, I actually kind of like the default theme for this use. If it were a public site, then I’d want something to make it more distinct, but the default is very clean and concise, which is good for helping find and add information quickly.
* I don’t want to mess around with HTML in my wiki like I do in my blogs. I want to be able to add stuff to the wiki as quickly as possible and having to do HTML markup will slow me down there. I like using it in blog posts because it gives me more control, but I (usually) take more care with blog posts than I do when adding things to what is essentially a Brain Dump Area.
+ FCKEditor kept adding <<br /> tags to all my line breaks and after a while of trying to figure out how to get it to stop, I disabled it and was able to use MediaWiki syntax for pseudo-rich formatting. I'm already somewhat familiar with MediaWiki syntax, so it should allow me to still input content fairly quickly (and more so after I have all the markup memorized).
An easy way to create an electronic Tickler file is by using Google Calendar, which can send you email, SMS, and “pop-up” reminders (which act as alerts when you sync with the iPhone Calendar), for any and all events you want.
But what about stuff that you don’t really want to see cluttering up your calendar? You just want to be reminded about it when you need to be reminded about it. The solution is simple. Just add another calendar (you can have as many as you want, I believe, but I wouldn’t think you’d need more than a few extra), and click on the name of it to hide all the events. You’ll see in the image here that I have two extra calendars called (very cleverly) “Invisible Reminders” and “Sweepstakes”. The first is for the kinds of reminders I described at the beginning of this paragraph, those things that should be heard, but not seen (or something like that). The other is reminders to enter daily contests to win prizes. I put the link to the web site as the “Where” of the event, and then get the reminders sent to me in the morning for mass processing. I schedule the events so that all the reminders are sitting there after I drop my wife off at work, and then I can just go through and click the links to open them all up in new tabs and then enter my email and submit. I haven’t actually won any yet, but at $10,000 per, it’s worth the 10 minutes or so in the morning for the chance that I might hit one some day.
Yes, I could just add one even called “Enter Sweepstakes” and keep all the URLs in there, but then I’d have to remember the different end dates for all of them (and there are usually about 5-6 going on at a time). When I have them each as individual events, I know that the ones to enter will be there in my Inbox, and my mind can stay at a low viscosity level.
So, I downloaded the Firefox 3.5 Beta 4 build since I saw a chart that showed how much faster it is than the version of FF I was running. Unfortunately, that same chart also showed how much faster Chrome 2 and Safari 4* were than even the Beta Firefox build.
So I also downloaded the Chrome 2 Beta (which has now been released), and have been using that this week. It took a little while to settle in, but the bookmarks and some of my passwords from Firefox were transferred over.
At first I hated that Chrome used a separate process for each tab because I couldn’t track it in the Windows Task Manager. But after using it for a bit, I discovered it has its own Task Manager that allows you to kill individual Chrome tabs, and with an extra click you can see the total amount of memory it’s using. A little extra work to see the usage, but at the same time, I don’t have to worry about how much RAM it’s using because it does a much better job at minimizing it’s use. Since each tab is its own process, when you close a tab, you immediately get that memory back. (I’m not entirely sure that’s true if that tab was using the Flash plugin, but you at least get some immediate giveback) I’m not sure what the memory recall process is in Firefox, but I know that it can just keep going up and up and up if you leave it open for a while. I haven’t experienced that (yet?) with Chrome.
Since I use Gmail almost constantly, Chrome was looking pretty good until today when I realized that I hadn’t looked at my Remember The Milk in a couple days. As any good GTDer should know, you have to be able to trust your system, and for me, having my list of Next Action sitting there is part of trusting my system. I can see it and know what’s on it… but if it’s not there, I get worried that somehow there is something that I might have forgotten.
Why does that matter?
Well, I realized that with Firefox, I had the RTM extension installed, so my list was always sitting there in my Gmail. Two Birds, One Stone, if you will. But with Chrome, I didn’t have that. I have RTM in my Bookmarks Toolbar, but I still have to open it to look at it.
So, I was ready to switch back to Firefox, until I remembered that Gmail Labs has a feature that lets you add any Google Gadget as a sidebar type thing. Remember The Milk has designed a nice Google Gadget that I used before even in Firefox (until my Gmail started spazzing out). So, I plugged that back in using Chrome, and so far, I haven’t had any Gmail freak outs and now I have a usable version of RTM in my inbox. It’s not quite as nice as the “Add On” version, but it works almost as well, and given Chrome’s speed and memory improvements, I’m sticking with it for now.
Everybody loves little charts right? I’ve put the characteristics in order of importance (to me):
|Remember The Milk||WIN|
|Adding RSS Feeds||WIN|
Now, if they’d only figure out a way to make PHP run super fast so that WordPress would be as speedy as Gmail and Reader…
* Safari 4 Beta was included in the comparison because, while it is faster and uses less memory than both Firefox and Chrome, it has a bug where it takes an inordinately long time for the first page to be loaded. I’ve had to wait up to 14 seconds (I timed it) for Google.com to load when I first launch the browser. It also does not automatically remember the open tabs after you close and reopen the browser. You can get this by going to History and opening the tabs from last session, so it’s a minor inconvenience, but paired with the previously mentioned time-waster, it takes it out of contention. If Apple gets that first page loading thing fixed, I will definitely consider making Safari my full time browser.
Finally, I think we can all agree that Ashley Tisdale looks the best in that dress. That is all.