Author Archives: Nels Wadycki

Why I Prefer Remember The Milk

Remember The Milk Logo

Several times already since February when the new version of Remember The Milk came out, I’ve considered moving my “Work” to do list into it, merging it with all of my personal tasks. I’ve loved Remember The Milk for a long time even when it’s design was questionable and there was no native (or “native”) app. But when RTM made a huge update to all their apps, they definitively reasserted their competitiveness in the field of To Do List Apps (despite the fact that they’re an 11 person organization and three of their employees share a last name with the two co-founders and one of the 11 people is a stuffed monkey).

Much like Rands (aka Michael Lopp), I try out productivity solutions whenever I hear of a new one. The main reason I’ve been so hesitant to move my Work Stuff into Remember The Milk is because I feel like I need the separation there. On the evenings or weekends, or even when I just want to see if there’s any personal stuff I can knock out, I don’t want to have to see all the work stuff that I need to do. I still think about it… Especially as we approach the start of a new year and I think about all the ways I can procrastinate by pretending I’m becoming more efficient continue my journey of self improvement. But in the mean time, here’s why I think that the new Remember The Milk is the solution.

(Note that this post is not intended to convince anyone to start pursuing a path toward a productivity system, or dictate how such a system should work. It pretty much assumes that you already use one or more apps or that you have some sort of productivity system already in place. It’s also not a step-by-step how-to because you can get that other places and it would take me forever to repeat what others have done better. This is mostly just to promote Remember The Milk because I use it and love it.)

It Feels Solid, Yet Easy To Use

I know this is very difficult to quantify and/or qualify objectively, but it’s also the most important thing for me when I am essentially unloading my mind into “the cloud.” I want an app that feel like scaffolding on which I can build a skyscraper of productivity. Or, since it’s that time of year, a tree on which I can hang bright lights and shiny ornaments and have people marvel at how I have it up right after Thanksgiving. I don’t want something that feels like scaffolding on a rainy or icy day. Oh, sorry… continuing the wrong metaphor. I don’t want an app that feels like a stocking full of little trinkets where I have to unpack the whole thing to find what I’m looking for.

With Remember The Milk, I don’t get the feeling that I’m going to lose or misplace something (in the digital realm at least). Remember The Milk isn’t the only app I’ve tried that feels solid and secure. Most of those that give me that feeling, though, also feel cumbersome, like there’s a trade-off between feeling like To Do items won’t get lost in a red velvet sock filled with them and the ability to quickly add new items.

Remember The Milk makes entering new tasks easy, fluid, almost frictionless, whether you use the short cuts available on the web site or “native” app (# for lists or tags, ! for priority, @ for location, ^ for due date, * for repeating tasks, = for time estimates) or whether you are entering tasks via the mobile app. Look at this layout:

Remember The Milk Add Task

Everything is there – you can add every piece of metadata with two taps. Adding due dates at a specific time takes a couple extra taps, and sometimes adding tags requires typing in the first couple of letters, but even when you want to do that, the interface provides enough room that you don’t struggle with it.

The app I use for Work To Dos (which shall rename nameless), has actually gone backwards in terms of the interface for entering tasks; a big reason I’ve considered moving them over into RTM. Some parts are clean and efficient, some parts feel cluttered and confusing or make me feel like I’m using the app wrong.

You Can Postpone Tasks Quickly

Getting Things Done purists will argue that having a due date for most of your tasks goes against the natural decision making process that GTD encourages by discouraging due dates entirely. However, finding a system that works has to be a matter of personal preference: A system that doesn’t fit the exact model prescribed by any productivity guru but that you’ll actually use is always better than a system that conforms to specific rules which falls by the wayside before you even hit a rough patch.

With that preface out of the way: I use due dates. Mostly because Remember The Milk (like every other app I’ve tried) makes it easiest to view a list of tasks that are due Today. When you open them up, they default to the Today view, so I use a due date of Today as more of a “Next Action” tag than an actual hard and fast due date. (There David Allen, you happy?)

The only problem with using a due date of Today as a Next Action tag is the next day when the app thinks that a tasks is Overdue. Most apps make assigning a new Due Date pretty easy (which makes sense since they force the Today list on you), but Remember The Milk does it as good as the best and better than most. Witness:

Remember The Milk Postpone Task

That’s 6 options right off the bat. Most apps I’ve used provide a decent variety of options for quickly changing due dates, but the ones they provide are not as useful (to me at least). RTM’s options make it easy to say:

  • “This is still a high priority – make it due tomorrow”, or
  • “This isn’t that important, I’ll do it in 2 or 3 days” or
  • “This is something I wanted to do this weekend, but I didn’t get to it and I know I won’t do it during the week, so make it due next weekend”, or even
  • “This was something that I already postponed and I still haven’t gotten to it, so put it off by a whole month”

And if you don’t want one of the predefined choices, “Pick interval” allows you to pick a date in a number of days, weeks, months, or even years, with a couple taps (instead of having to scroll through one of the date picker wheels that most apps use).

In the web and native app, there are also keyboard shortcuts that make it easy to postpone tasks (as well as adding new ones – using the punctuation I mentioned in the previous section). All these combos make it easy to keep your list(s) up-to-date and manageable and still focus on the things that need to get done.

Add To Dos From the Browser on Your Phone

This is a smaller one, and something that other apps also provide, but again, Remember The Milk it does efficiently and effectively. To get things into RTM, I used to have to email links to myself for entry later, or copy the link on a mobile phone (which in my experience can be tricky). The best part about RTM’s integration is that they have a URL field as a distinct part of the metadata so when you save a link from the web it pre-populates the task with the name of the page and the URL field. All you have to do is pick a date (or not, up to you) and a list (again, not required if you just want to save it to your default list and then move it when you get to your weekly review). The other fields like Priority and Tags are also available when saving from the browser (or not, it depends on the default fields which are configurable).

URL Field

I mentioned it above, but it bears repeating. The URL field is key. When you have a repeating task like “Check fantasy team” or “Enter this contest every day”, having a URL as a separate field keeps it from cluttering up the task description (even if it’s a clickable link from that description field).

Wide Range of Tag Colors

This is another thing that seems fairly mundane, but when you have a wide variety of tag colors to choose from, it means you can choose a different color (or one shade with a light background to distinguish it from another shade with a dark background) for different concepts and then you can just glance at your list(s) to see what kind of tasks you have to do.

I use this (though not as consistently as I should) to get an idea if I’m doing the right kinds of tasks. I have different label colors for “finances”, “fun”, “ltg” (long term goals), “writing”, “gtd” (getting things done), “tv”, “profdev” (professional development). If I look at a day and don’t see many colorful little tags next to my tasks, it’s an easily identifable sign that I’m probably working on things that aren’t that important (because they don’t fit into a project or category that I’ve already predefined). I can also see at a glance if I’ve got a good balance of writing and fun and professional development.

I’d provide a screenshot of that too, but it would take a lot of work to redact all the personal stuff that I don’t want to publish on the web, so here’s one that will give you the idea (from PCMag):

remember-the-milk-2016

Hopefully this list has provided you with a little incentive to try out Remember The Milk for your productivity system (though if you’re like me, it probably won’t take much convincing to sign up and at least kick the tires).

Science Fiction Giveaway Bonanza

Does anyone use the word “bonanza” anymore? Anyway…

giveaway-big

Welcome to the galactic #SFling September giveaway!

Twenty-two award-winning, New York Times, USA Today, and Amazon bestselling authors have banded together to bring one lucky winner a fleet of awesome prizes. I am one of those authors, but none of those other qualifiers apply to me… That said, you can still win these great prizes:

  • A Kindle Fire,
  • A $25 Amazon gift card, and
  • The paperbacks and ebooks pictured above (and more!)

You can get up to 22 entries into the contest by signing up for author’s mailing lists. And for each entry you’ll get a free ebook copy of the book the author has in the giveaway! Yes, it really is that easy and amazing!

Just Click Here to go to the contest entry page and start entering!

This Year’s Theme: Future Self

Do-something-today-that-your-future-self-will-thank-you-for-white

Since 2013, when I read about Ramit’s Year of Taking Control theme, I decided I would come up with themes for my years. I actually stole his for the first year just to bootstrap it, but after spending a year with the concept I was able to come up with my own themes that were more relevant to me. (Such high-minded things as: The Year of Finishing and The Year of Awareness.) Sometimes, I have to get into the year a little bit to figure out what the theme will actually be (I try to decide before it starts, but usually something else will present itself as a more natural path to follow).

As a very concrete example, I thought this year was going to be the Year of Productive Procrastination or the Year of Putting the Time to Work (that is: the time saved by being efficient and organized being used in the most productive way possible instead of just more time to check Facebook). Both of those would have been great. I read an article on overcoming productivity addiction on the Todoist blog and it seemed to fit with either of those themes. Instead of reading more about productivity, I would instead use my system of lists and calendars to make sure that even when I wasn’t working on my highest priority items (like writing the next book in the series), I would still be working on something productive to help me reach one of my numerous other goals. I would finally leverage my system in a more conscious way; being aware in every moment of the time I was saving, the little moments here and there, where putting things on a list or on my calendar, would help me build up a reserve of extra time that I could spend on doing what I really wanted. (If only time could actually be garbage collected like that into more contiguous blocks) I even went so far as to think: Hey, maybe instead of always doing something that is obvious, like opening and sorting them mail, or cleaning the dishes in the sink, maybe I’ll let those things slide until they really need to get done so I can put that time to use in the present instead of trying to save it for some nebulous future.

Then I read an article on the Todoist blog about strategies for overcoming procrastination. Initially, it sounded either like something that would fit perfectly with my theme, or something that I’d read a hundred times before and would be able to skim in a few minutes. It turned out to be mostly the latter, but also contained the seed of something else entirely. The strategies for overcoming procrastination were actually very good (please read them when you’re done procrastinating by reading this post), but nothing I hadn’t seen before. (Good to remind yourself periodically though)

But the breakthrough actually came in the background part of the post, where the author – as per usual – quotes some study that someone has done in order to back up the stuff they’re about to tell you. This one went like this:

Research shows that our brains are actually wired to think about about our present and future selves as two separate people. That’s why we’re able to prioritize our present mood at the expense of our future well-being even though it’s an irrational choice in the long-term.

A study run by UCLA psychologist Hal Herschel and a team at Stanford University found that participants actually engaged different areas of the brain when they thought about their present selves versus their future selves. In fact, when people were told to think about themselves in ten years, their brain patterns closely resembled those observed when they were asked to think about celebrities they didn’t know.

This separation of present and future self encourages us to make different decisions about ourselves now and in the future. For instance, one study showed people asked to tutor other students would offer to do so less in the present, but would offer more of their time in the future.

To sum up the research, we procrastinate because our brains are wired to care more about our present comfort than our future happiness.

So “Do something today that your future self will thank you for” is not just a good saying for a meme or an inspirational poster. It’s a legitimate scientific concept.

You think that your future self is someone else.

So from the point of that realization forward, this has been the Year of the Future Self.

Evidence of this can be seen if you look at the dates of the blog posts that I refer to above. They’re from February and March. I started this post in April and it’s been 2 months. Because there were things that were more important for me to get done for my future self. (No offense to anyone who reads this blog, but I don’t think anyone is sitting around anxiously waiting for the next bi-monthly installment of my random thoughts)

Thinking more about my future self has already helped me overcome a lot of procrastination. It actually kind of forces you to do a lot of things that you would see listed in those articles about overcoming procrastination, but I like the change in mindset that comes with it. Eat That Frog! becomes not just a funny way to think about doing something difficult, it becomes a question:

What is the one thing I can do right now that my future self is going to appreciate the most?

For me, and especially for my writing, I can ask myself, “How does my future self feel when he comes home from work and his writing for the day is already done?” That is a question I can answer because I know how my past self felt when that happened and it makes it much easier to imagine how my future self will feel. It draws him closer to me, makes him less of a stranger and more like someone who is almost me. And when that happens, I imagine the feeling my future self will have (or the opposite feeling he’ll have when he has to come home to a 0 word head start), and it turns it into something more about my present comfort than my future happiness.

do-something-womanweights

So really, I think they key is not just to see that motivational quote on someone’s Instagram and go for a run or do a workout. It’s not eating the frog because that’s what a book tells you is the key to overcoming procrastination.

It’s about drawing your future self back into your present self. So he or she doesn’t feel like a celebrity you don’t really know. Think about how you’ve felt when you’ve procrastinated or when you haven’t. Recognize that is how your future self is going to feel.

If I think about how I felt last year when I was falling behind in my writing goals, there was stress. I know how that felt. It’s concrete. I don’t have to imagine it like it’s a future scenario. I know that if it happens again (which it is), my future self will feel that same stress. (It’s totally irrational stress since it’s not like writing is anything close to a full time job that puts food on the table or a roof over my head, but that’s a whole different therapy session blog post)

When I imagine my future self feeling that concrete emotion, it makes present me stressed. Not as stressed as I certainly would be in the future. But enough to make me think: “It’s worth suffering for another thirty minutes to crank out two hundred more words so that my future self doesn’t have to write those extra two hundred words on top of everything else I’m going to ask him to do.”

do-something-sunset

Amazon is changing the Goodreads game

A couple months ago, I tweeted:

Well, the changes are moving from mostly aesthetic, user experience enhancements to actual new features. A couple weeks ago, I got one of the usual emails from Goodreads notifying me there was a Giveaway for a book on my To Read list. That happens regularly, but when I clicked through to enter the Giveaway, I saw this:

Goodreads Kindle Giveaway

Now, if I were still blogging about fantasy basketball, this would be like the equivalent of Hassan Whiteside’s free agency decision coming up this summer (ie: a big deal to people involved in the game, but fairly meaningless to the general population). I would have been all over it, reporting it as soon as I saw the alert on my phone. But here it’s been a month since the official Goodreads blog post about it, and 2 weeks since I first got the email… It’s probably been reported all over the writing/marketing/self-publishing blogs and KBoards, but I don’t really hawk those like I used to. Plus, this way I get to provide my own, unbiased opinion and analysis. Yay?

What’s the big deal?

That little image nestled in there next to the word Format. It says Amazon Kindle.

Who cares?

Well, author’s (and publishers) have always been able to give away hard copies of books on Goodreads. It’s a great marketing tool, since Goodreads promotes the Giveaway for you on the site and there are plenty of people who enter giveaways for books in genres they like without knowing anything about the book beforehand. But creating a paperback version (even using Amazon’s Creatspace) is a lot of extra work compared to making an ebook available for Kindle.

Not only that, but giving away ebooks is a lot cheaper. Giving away a paperback (or other hard copy) costs the base price of the book (printing and shipping). For The Valkyrie Project, that means about $7 per copy given away. In contrast, the Kindle giveaway costs a fixed price of $119 and you can give away up to 100 copies. I’m not sure why you’d do less than 100 if your goal is to get copies into the hands of as many people as possible (which is usually the goal with any indie marketing effort). So obviously, that’s only $1.19 per copy – almost 6 times cheaper.

So that’s huge by itself, but I also believe that giving away ebooks on Goodreads is much more likely to yield reviews (the lifeblood of books and authors) than making the same ebook free on Amazon via KDP Select. I don’t have any actual proof, but it’s logical because people who join Goodreads do so to keep track of books they’re reading and review them. There’s really nothing else to do there. People on Amazon generally want many other things in addition to books.

And, as they point out in the blog post, when someone reviews your book on Goodreads (or even most of the time if they just add it to their To Read list), it will show up in the feed that all of their friends will then see on the site.

Once this rolls out to the general author population on Goodreads, Amazon will have provided authors with yet another fantastic marketing tool. And now is the part where you can chime in with your worries that by giving away only Kindle copies, authors and readers are locking themselves into Amazon’s platform. I am well aware that is exactly what Amazon is trying to get everyone to do. But it’s not any different from, as one of thousands of examples, Apple Music giving away 3 months free to try to get people to join that service, or Tidal music getting Kanye’s album exclusively for 2 weeks before everyone else to try to get people to join that service. I don’t want Amazon to gain a monopoly on ebook sales, for sure, but I also hope that people who worry that Amazon is going to begin acting like a monopolist and exploiting authors remember that without Amazon, there likely wouldn’t even be a market for ebooks big enough to sustain the careers of as many authors as now make a full-time living from their writing. (I’m certainly not one of them, nor do I ever think I will be, but I am happy that writers now have that option and can actually earn a comfortable living as a midlist author instead of living on ramen until striking gold and then eating only cavier)

Really, this is just another step in the evolution of Goodreads, Kindle Unlimited, and Amazon as a whole, an iterative process in which Amazon figures out (or guesses) what customers want and gives it to them. And while it may not be exactly what authors want (for example – you don’t get the contact info for winners of the Giveaway), smart authors will use it to get what they want (by putting email list signups links in their ebooks, or perhaps making note of the winners on Goodreads and following up to see if they leave reviews on the site).

Bonus New Feature

Something else Amazon/Goodreads added in May was Goodreads Deals. I’m hesitant to say that this feature will be much less important/impactful than Kindle Giveaways because I feel like it could turn out to be just as big a deal in the right circumstances (and in the perfect circumstances, even more so). But, it isn’t clear — even from the blog post aimed at authors and publishers — how books get listed as Goodreads Deals in the first place… Indie authors can’t discount prices on ebooks. They can only price their ebook relative to their paperback version to make it look like a better deal than getting the hard copy.

If the Goodreads Deal becomes something that can be sent out when an author makes use of their Kindle Countdown days on KDP Select, then it will be a useful way to contact potential readers (especially if you get a lot of people to add your book to their To Read lists by chaining it with the Giveaway feature above).

The more likely option, when beta testing is complete, is that Goodreads Deals will be similar to rental lists from sites like Bookbub or Freebooksy, where authors can apply to be part of an email blast (and probably give Amazon some money for the favor). One clear advantage that Amazon has over the other free and discount book lists is that it gets a 30 or 70% direct cut from all of the books sold, rather than just an affiliate fee. In order to appear somewhat more impartial, they do allow for deals on the other major ebook retailers, but Amazon certainly knows that they have 60-80% of the ebook market, so they can afford to include the other companies. It’s a small price to pay to please Goodreads users and continue to have the opportunity to eventually move them into the Kindle and Amazon ecosystem (through the Kindle Giveaways, of course).

monopoly

Judging A Book By It’s Cover [Independent/Self-Publishing]

One of the first things that any independent publisher giving advice to other independent publishers says is: Write a good book, have it professionally edited, and get a good cover for it.

Those are the three central tenants of self-publishing. I’m not going to even bother looking up and linking to references because I’ve seen it on just about every site I’ve ever read about self-publishing (sometimes multiple times).

The other thing I see on most of the sites dispensing that advice is a lack of supporting evidence. By that, I mean: How does anyone know that these are the most important things to publishing a book? Is there an experiment that can prove it?

Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a way to quantify whether you’ve written a good book or not. I suppose you could write a book, throw it up on Amazon and watch your numbers for some amount of time… then somehow “make it better” and upload the new, better version and see if you sell more copies. Theoretically, if you did end up selling more without changing anything else you’re doing, then you could attribute the increase in sales to the fact that people reading it are recommending it more to friends who then buy it. That’s a tenuous connection, and it assumes, as stated, that you don’t change anything else you’re doing. Not only that, but you’d have to make sure you don’t get any new reviews on Amazon (or Goodreads) because those negative or positive reviews will certainly influence whether or not someone discovering the book will buy it. (Since that’s exactly what the rating system is designed to do)

There are a lot of other outside factors that would have to be controlled, but even if you could plausibly eliminate some external variables as causes for an increase in sales, it’s going to be a pretty painful experiment and one that I’m pretty sure no author would willingly take on unless it was under a pen name. The same thing applies to professional editing. You could put up a book that hasn’t been professionally edited, and see how it sells, then have someone edit it and see if your numbers go up. The same restrictions and caveats apply to this case.

So that leaves the book’s cover.

I imagine it’s hard (especially for those authors who are writing and promoting a lot more than me) to devise an experiment where the only variable is the cover. But as someone selling in the single digits per year with only one book out (last year, this was), and doing basically 0 promotion, it was actually pretty easy for me.

The numbers below will probably make people laugh, but I’m posting them so you can see the actual values and not just a hand-waving conclusion to my bold experiment. I’m also posting them just to be honest with other indie/self-publishers who will (hopefully) end up on this page at some point. This can be the reality of it if you’re not good at marketing (or if I’m really being honest, just don’t want to put the time into it) and you only have one book out. (My reading on the subject tells me that the 4th rule of self-publishing is: Don’t bother promoting if you only have 1 book. It’s much better to hit it big when you have a bunch of books out.) Lucky for me, I have a day job with health insurance that pays well enough that I’m not a starving artist. In fact, I usually have more calories available to me than I could possibly consume on a regular basis, so I have to work out and eat right or I’ll end up as the opposite of a starving artist. Now, perhaps if I were a starving artist, and writing books to sell was the best option I had for making money, then I’d skip the extra hours that I put in at work and spend more time marketing. But that’s kind of a whole different blog post… so let’s proceed.

Book Cover Experiment

From 2012 when The Valkyrie Project was originally published until November of 2015, I had this cover:

valkyrie-project-cover-200w267h

I thought it was pretty decent considering I had done it myself. I still think it is decent considering I did it myself, but decent doesn’t sell books in this day and age.

And as proof, with that cover:

January 2015 – October 2015 sales (before cover change): 3

There’s no missing 0 there. It’s just 3.

I uploaded a new cover – no other changes – at the start of November 2015. It looked like this:

The Valkyrie Project final ebook cover

November 2015 – December 2015 sales (after cover change): 12

Yes, I went from 0.3 books per month to 6 books per month simply by changing the cover image.

Now, with only 15 total sales, I’m sure some statistician will say that I don’t have a big enough sample size, but I think the dramatic increase in sales makes up for that fact. Especially considering I did nothing different in those two months.

“But wait!” the astute among you will say, “Didn’t you release another book at the end of 2015? Certainly that had some effect on the sales numbers! Your experiment is not as flawless as you claim!”

Yes, I did in fact release a book at the end of 2015, but the 12 sales from November to December all took place before I announced that book and even before it was available on Amazon. So while you steely-eyed bean counters are correct in part, the addition of that book to my inventory did not have an effect on the 12 sales of the Valkyrie Project.

Weathering The Past has done pretty well since it’s release, most of which I attribute to the cover:

Weathering The Past Final

I am sure it’s harder to sell the second book in series (and I have heard/seen anecdotal evidence to support that), so the fact that I’ve sold more copies (15) of Weathering The Past in the first 2 months than I did in 3 years (up to October 2015) with The Valkyrie Project makes me happy (even though it has no bearing on nor relevance to the above experiment). And honestly, now that the book(s) is(are) actually selling a bit, it has inspired me to increase my output and stay focused instead of bouncing around between projects as I have been doing probably a bit too much recently. But that also could fill a whole other blog post.