Commit 39140b29 authored by ScottWNesbitt's avatar ScottWNesbitt

Posts for 2017

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title: Getting (Back) Underway
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<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/trample-784060_640.jpg" alt="Photo, from below, of a man's boot" /></p>
Just before Christmas, 2015 a small cargo ship was docked at the wharf I can see from my apartment. That's nothing unusual &mdash; Auckland is a fairly busy port and there's a new cargo ship at that wharf every day or two.
This ship, however, had been there for about a week. It was listing noticeably to starboard and was venting water for what seemed like an entire afternoon.
One evening, before I turned in, I saw the boat illuminated by its running lights. It looked like it was ready to get underway. The next morning, however, it was still docked at the wharf, forlornly waiting for the chance to sail into wider waters.
Life can feel like that ship. Stuck in one spot, not being able to move forward or move on. And you can take only so much before you need to push on, to push forward.
Maybe that's what 2017 should be for you: the year that you stand up to your inertia. To sidestep what's holding you back.
Maybe, just maybe, 2017 is the year for you to push forward and get back underway.
title: Don't Fetishize Your Notebook
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<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/pexels-photo-210660.jpeg" alt="A notebook with a ballpiont pen, with a laptop in the background" /></p>
Among the hardcore productivity crowd, the notebook seems to have become an object of obsession. I'm not talking about the notebook computer, but the paper notebook. Sheets of blank or ruled or lined paper wrapped in a cover, waiting for the caress of a pen. Waiting for the next great idea, that bit of important information, that task list.
Some folks in that crowd take their obsession to extremes. They deeply ponder whether to buy a Moleskine, an Ecosystem, or a Leuchtturm. They demand that the pages be a certain thickness or made from acid-free paper. They obsess about the perfect size, the perfect thickness, the perfect dimensions of their notebooks.
It sometimes feels like notebooks have moved from being mere tools to being objects to worship. I've met more than a couple of people who view their notebooks as objects that convey a certain status. They seem to believe that the so-called *right notebook* will drive their productivity to legendary levels.
That's all wishful thinking.
Don't fetishize your notebook. Notebooks aren't magical objects. They won't miraculously boost your productive. They won't increase your social standing. They won't make you smarter or more attractive.
I admit that I can be guilty of, if not fetishizing my notebooks, then being a bit snobbish about them. My favourite brand of is Moleskine. Why? Not because they're popular but because they're rugged. Having said that, I've used a variety of other notebooks ranging from brands like Ecosystem, to giveaway notebooks from events and conferences, to the in-house brands from stationery and book chains.
And guess what? They all did their jobs in the same way. The inexpensive exercise book that you buy at a drug store or a supermarket works just as well as a more expensive Moleskine notebook.
A notebook is just paper on which you write your thoughts and ideas and tasks and schedules. Nothing more. Treat your notebook as a tool, not as a piece of fashion or as a status symbol. To be entirely honest, no one cares about what brand or size or type of notebook you use.
Remember that notebooks are *disposable*. I mean that in the sense of not many of us go back to our notebooks after we write on the last line of the last page. Once a notebook is full, for most of us it has served its purpose. In the end, those notebooks either just gather dust or are the fodder for recyclers.
The notebook isn't what matters. It's what you **put into** your notebook that counts. You can easily fill cheap notebooks with great ideas. But you can also fill high-end notebooks with junk. The quality of what you put into a notebook doesn't depend on the notebook. It depends on **you**.
I'll say it again: notebook is a tool. Nothing more, nothing less. Focus on how you use your notebook, and what you put into it, rather than on the notebook itself. Doing that will take you where you want to go. Your notebook will be your trusted companion on that journey.
<p style="text-align-right; font-size: 9px">Photo via <a href="">Visual hunt</a></p>
title: Links Roundup - January 10, 2017
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* The case for [doodling while taking notes](
* The _real_ [trick to productivity](
* [Stop being productive](
* How to stay sane and productive [working from home](
title: Travelling Light, Redux
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<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/airport-1515431_640.jpg" alt="People in an airport" /></p>
Each year for the last four, I've been taking week-long trips to the United States from New Zealand. What's ironic is that during that time I've yet to return to Canada, the country of my birth ...
Those four trips have been for a couple of events &mdash; an [unconference and documentation sprint]( in 2013, and to attend a conference called All Things Open in 2014, 2015, and 2016. With the latter three trips (and the few I've taken within New Zealand during that time), I've been trying to see how [lightly I can travel](
While I'm not obsessed with carrying as little as possible, I do want to find how much I actually *need* to take with me when I travel. Those experiments have had mixed success over the last three years. I'd like to share my latest adventures in travelling light with you.
## My Last Trip
As I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago, that trip saw me head to Raleigh, North Carolina in October, 2016. I attended a conference called All Things Open and to met with the [moderators and team at]( Red Hat, the company that supports, paid my freight on both legs of that trip. This time 'round, all of my flights were aboard United Airlines.
I don't know if you've ever flown United, but whenever I do the overhead bins are usually full when I get to my seat. That makes travelling with as little as possible *very* important. If I can't fit my bag under my seat when necessary, I have to check it. And I don't want to do that.
Here's a photo of what I took with me:
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/to-pack.jpg" alt="Stuff I took with me to Raleigh" /></p>
All of that, starting from the top left, is:
* Three pairs of underwear
* Three t-shirts
* A toiletry bag
* My laptop
* A hoodie
* Three pairs of socks
* My ebook reader
* A water bottle
* A USB charger
* A pair of USB cables for charging my phone and ebook reader
There was also a pair of light travel pants buried under the pile of t-shirts.
All of that was going into these bags:
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/bags.jpg" alt="The bags I carried it all it" /></p>
From left to right:
* A 25 litre pack
* Two small everyday carry (EDC) pouches
* A [Rolo travel bag](
The hoodie, laptop, and electronics went into the pack, while I put my clothes into the Rolo. The nifty thing about the Rolo is that it rolls up into a tight cylinder, which I can then strap the my pack.
What about the EDC pouches? My brilliant idea was to attach them to the straps of my pack. They'd hold my phone, my wallet, my passport and boarding passes, a notebook, my glasses, and a couple of pens. Those items would be easy to get to &mdash; I wouldn't have to fumble around for them. That was the idea, at least. More on this in a moment.
## How Did That Work Out?
Overall, it didn't work out too badly. It was the first time I travelled with the Rolo and it worked well. My trusty 25 litre pack yet again didn't let me down, and I used it as a day pack and to carry my laptop around at the conference.
I probably could have gotten away with carrying a bit less &mdash; one less pair of socks and one less t-shirt, and perhaps leaving the extra pair of pants behind. I wouldn't have gone around in smelly clothes, in case you're wondering. I always bring a small bottle of castile soap and a travel clothesline with me to do laundry when I travel. On top of that, I usually snag a free t-shirt or two at the events I attend. I only took the extra pair of pants in case the ones I was wearing got dirty or torn. They didn't.
Three paragraphs ago, I alluded to the fact that the experiment with the EDC pouches didn't work out in the way I thought it would. A big part of it was that I couldn't securely lash the pouches to the straps on my pack. The ties kept coming loose and the pouches slipped down the straps. On top of that, the two pouches were bulkier than I thought they'd be. In the end, the EDC pouches were a bit more trouble than they were worth, at least in the way that I used them.
## Lessons Learned
I do like the freedom that travelling light gives me. And if I can lighten that load just a bit more, all the better.
On my next trip, whenever and to wherever that is, I'll probably wind up taking a couple of fewer items of clothing. I might leave the ebook reader at home and read on my phone. I might also forego carrying a laptop and instead take a tablet, a portable stand, and a folding Bluetooth keyboard.
I'm also not ready to give up on the EDC pouches yet. On my next trip, I might carry one and find a way to better lash it to my pack. Or just come up with a better way to carry it.
Regardless, my trips over the last few years have reinforced the keys to travelling light that I [outlined in a previous post]( I'm going to keep doing that until I get it right.
(After I got back from my last trip, I noticed that Leo Babauta published an ebook called *[Ultralight: The Zen Habits Guide to Travelling Light and Living Light](*. The book is worth its $4.99 price tag and contains some great advice.)
title: Staying on Track with TinyCal
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<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/pen-calendar-to-do-checklist.jpg" alt="A calendar, a pen, and a task list" /></p>
For the most part, I prefer to use small, simple, minimal tools. Tools that do one or two things and do them well. That way, I'm confident that the tool won't have to many bugs, be too big and unwieldy, or just trying too hard to be something that it's not.
There seems to be at least one web developer who shares that sentiment. His name is [Anthony Feint]( and over the last while he's been crafting a set of what he calls [TinyApps]( I've been playing with one or two of Feint's creations over the last year or so, and was pleasantly surprised to learn he'd come up with a new one.
It's called [TinyCal]( and it's a quick and simple way to get and stay on track. Let's take a look at it.
## Getting Started
TinyCal, as you've probably guessed from the name, is a simple calendar. It's deceptively simple, though.
To get started, head over to []( and register for an account. When you log in, you'll see a window that's reminiscent of an old-school weekly paper calendar.
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/tinycal-window.png" alt="The TinyCal window" /></p>
To create an event or appointment, find the day in the calendar for it. Click on that day and type a description of the event, along with a time, and press enter. Typing this:
**Write the TinyCal post at 10:00 am**
Results in this:
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/tinycal-event.png" alt="A new event in TinyCal" /></p>
Notice how TinyCal adds a blank entry below the event? It's a nice little touch, since we all often have multiple events and appointments during the day.
There are several ways you can specify times for your events and appointments. Here are a few examples:
* To specify a time range, type _event from x:xx pm to y:yy pm_ &mdash; for example, _Meet with accountant from 2:00 pm to 3 pm_
* To specify a certain number of minutes in the future, type _event x minutes from now_ &mdash; for example, _Pick up courier package 25 minutes from now_
* To specify a date and time in the future, type _event date time_ &mdash; for example, _Doctor's appointment January 12 11:30 am_
## Creating Tasks
What happens if you don't add a date or time to an event or appointment? It becomes a task.
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/tinycal-tasks.png" alt="Tasks in TinyCal" /></p>
Click the task to mark it as complete.
You can also add sub tasks and additional information to a task by clicking on it. That opens a new window where you can add extra information.
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/tinycal-subtask.png" alt="Tasks and subtasks in TinyCal" /></p>
## Grouping Events and Tasks
If you have events and tasks that are related, and want to see them all in one place add a hashtag to them.
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/tinycal-hashtag.png" alt="Hashtags in TinyCal" /></p>
Click the hashtag to see a list of events or tasks to which the hashtag applies.
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/tinycal-hashtag-list.png" alt="A list of tasks with the same hashtag in TinyCal" /></p>
## Limitations
Right now, TinyCal is in its early days. It's lacking a few features, some of which many would consider key ones. Those missing features include the ability to edit or update calendar items, setting reminders, and creating all-day events. Those features, and a few more, are on Feint's roadmap. It's just a matter of being patient.
There's no mobile app. However, the site does work nicely with a mobile browser.
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/tinycal-mobile.png" alt="TinyCal in Chrome on an Android smartphone" /></p>
## Final Thoughts
TinyCal won't appeal to everyone. That's especially true for the crowd what wants every feature in their tools. TinyCal will definitely be too basic and too barebones for them.
What I like about TinyCal is that because there are no alerts or reminders, it forces you to be mindful and aware. You have to pay a bit more attention and take a bit more responsibility. It forces you to focus. That, I believe, is what makes TinyCal a successful application.
title: On Learning Foreign Languages (Or Anything Else)
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<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/german-18368_640.jpg" alt="A book in German" /></p>
I've never been much good at learning languages. *Complete failure* is a pretty accurate description of my efforts &mdash; I'm 0 for 3 when it comes to trying to pick up foreign langugages.
While I've never reached the point where I could use a language professionally, or reached the point of having some useful degree of fluency, I know that having even a rudimentary or basic knowledge of a language can come in handy.
Whenever I travel to a country or region where English isn't spoken, I try to learn at least a bit of the local language. It makes it easier to get around and deal with everyday tasks like shopping and banking. When I was Japan in the early 1990s, for example, I was trying to find my way around the city of Kumamoto. So was a man from Spain I ran into. Between my poor Japanese and his poor English, we were able to get a friendly local to point us in the right directions.
Sometimes, though, knowing the *wrong* language can cause problems. At the very least, it can cause a few hiccups. At a Belgian train station, I asked an employee (in French) for two tickets to Dusseldorf. He rolled his eyes and gave me something of a nasty look. While he could speak French, it turns out that his first language was [Walloon]( I won't go into the cultural and political aspects of language in Belgium, but suffice it to say I'd said the right thing in the wrong language. I explained, in French, that I wasn't from around there and didn't speak Walloon. That mollified him a bit, and I was able to get my train tickets. He still looked put out, though.
All of that, more or less, was and is the extent of my abilities with the languages I've tried to learn or learned for a particular journey.
The point behind these examples? Just as with coding, I don't think everyone **needs** to learn to speak another tongue. You definitely shouldn't do it because of the breathless articles that show up in newspapers or because some pundit says you need to learn the current *hot* language. Remember when people said Japanese was *the* language of the future? That didn't last long, did it?
You should learn a language because you **want to** learn it. You should learn a language because you're interested in it, and in the culture of the country or countries where it's spoken.
Not everyone needs to reach fluency or have professional-level or near-native skills with a language. For many of us, the rudiments and basics &mdash; like what you need to get by while travelling &mdash; are more than enough.
Like learning anything else, learning a language is a *choice*. Your choice, not a choice thrust upon you by someone else. You choose to learn a language, to the degree you need to learn it. Or not learn it at all.
title: Links Roundup - January 24, 2017
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* [8 exercises]( to warm up your brain in the morning
* People are falling in love with a [simple productivity system]( that uses only pen and paper
* GTD is broken: [focus on results, not the system](
* Nobody cares [how hard you work](
title: There Is No Magic Formula
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<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/wood-lighting-creativity-paper.jpg" alt="A sign saying 'You make your own magic', beside a notebook" /></p>
With far too many people (and believe me, *one* is too many), productivity seems to be an endless search. A search for the right tool. A search for the right system. A search for that one hack. A search for that elusive magic formula that will tranform them into the productivity deities that they see within themselves.
You can fill [Remember the Milk]( with tasks. You can cram all your thoughts and ideas and notes into [Simplenote]( You can pack Google Calendar with events and reminders. You can take pen to paper notebook after paper notebook and jot down whatever you need to organize yourself. And on and on.
But there's a fundamental flaw in that thinking. Doing those things alone won't make you productive. Doing those things alone won't get the work done.
**There is no magic formula**.
There are no magical *3 steps*, no *7 ways*, no *5 secrets* to productivity.
If you're serious about being productive, if you're serious about actually getting things done you need to:
1. Show up
2. Focus on what you need to get done _now_
3. Sit down and do the work
4. Move on to the next task
5. Rinse and repeat
No magic involved there. No secrets. Just a lot of work, a lot of dedication. Being productive involves falling off the bicycle but getting back on again and getting back on track.
It takes a lot more effort and focus to do work than to [spend time organizing]( yourself. The tools and systems can help you, but they shouldn't be at the centre of the story.
The centre of your productivity story is **you**. No one else. Nothing else. Use the tools and systems to help you get where you want to go. Always remember, though, that the tools and systems are a convenience. They're not doing the work. You are. Unless you're ready and willing to get things done, no tool or system in the wacky world of productivity will help you.
title: The Bare Minimum You Need to Get and Stay Organized
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<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/pexels-photo-97987.jpeg" alt="A notebook, a pen, a phone, and a mug" /></p>
I was recently chatting with a few people about various topics when one of them casually mentioned that I blog about productivity. One of the people, who I'd only met that day, looked surprised and asked me point-blank *What's the bare minimum I need to stay organized?*
To be honest, I was taken aback. Not by being asked the question, but by the question itself. I've never thought about organization and productivity from quite that perspective. So, in an effort to gain some thinking space I asked him *Why are you interested in that?*
He replied that he was tired of complex productivity systems. That he was tired of the multiple-app lifestyle he seemed to be leading. He just wanted a simple, minimal way to keep on track.
With that piece locked firmly into the puzzle, a picture took form in my head. Here's the advice I gave him.
## On the Digital Side
The simplest approach I could come up with involves three parts. The first part is to use text files for notes, task lists, and checklists. You can read my thoughts about doing this [in a blog post from 2016](
The second part is using a calendar that lets you schedule your work and set up events and appointments. This could be on your desktop or your mobile device. The calendar should, however, sync between all of the devices that you use during the day.
The third part is optional: a way to synchronize the text files you're using across multiple devices. That way, they're within reach whether you're sitting in front of your computer or holding your phone on a bus or train.
## Going Analog
You can go even simpler than what I just described by substituting a paper notebook for the text files and a pocket agenda for the calendar. I did something like this in 2015 with my [three-month pen and paper challenge]( It didn't work for me, but there are a number of people out there who organize themselves quite effectively on paper.
Use the notebook to take notes and to create task lists and checklists. Use the agenda for appointments, events, and scheduling. You can, however, combine the two. I know a couple of people who use a [Moleskine Daily Planner]( or [Moleksine Weekly Notebook]( to do everything I mentioned. That approach doesn't always work for everyone, which is why I suggest using another notebook as a backup in case you need to take longer notes
## It's About More Than the Tools
Whether or not taking a minimal approach to organization works really depends on you. For the minimal approach to work, you need to:
* Be mindful and aware of what you need to do
* Show up and be ready to do the work
* Focus
Without any of that, no tool or system (minimal or not) will help you become more productive and more organized.
title: 4 Recommended Books
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<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/pexels-photo-30982.jpg" alt="A man reading a book" /></p>
While I've slacked off a bit on my reading, that doesn't mean books haven't been passing in front of my eyes over the last few months. Several have. I'd like to quickly share four of those books with you. They may not make you more productive or a higher achiever, but they just might help you find some more balance in your life.
And note that none of the links below are affiliate links. I don't make any money or get any credit or incentive when you click those links. You're welcome!
**[The Art of Stillness](** &mdash; Travel, we're told, broadens the mind and offers the opportunity for adventure. But noted travel writer and essayist Pico Iyer posits a different idea: that we can broaden our minds and ourselves by turning inwards. Iyer discusses why we need to turn inward, and the rewards you can reap from doing that.
**[The World Beyond Your Head](** &mdash; Do you feel your attention has not only been divided, but that it's been shattered? You're not alone. And it's not just because of all the technology all around us, which provides all sorts of distractions. Matthew B. Crawford looks closely at what attention is, how we got to where we are (it's been happening for centuries), and offers some ideas about how we and the generations that follow us can reclaim our attention.
**[Autopilot](** &mdash; Everyone and everything around us seems to be shouting *Do more!* or to use every minute of every day productively. If you've been reading this space for any amount of time, then you know that I feel this is no way to live. And Andrew Smart agrees with me. In *Autopilot*, he argues that we need to step back, slow down, and let ourselves relax and go fallow more. Smart even offers some pretty convincing evidence from the world of neuroscience to back up what he's saying.
**[The Zen Habits Beginner's Guide to Mindfulness](** &mdash; *Mindfulness* has become something of a buzzword lately, and some people tout it as the cure to all of the problems in your life. It's not quite that, but it can help. In this ebook, Leo Babauta teaches you the basics of meditation to help you achieve a state of mindfulness so you can become aware of what's causing the problems in your life. You don't just learn how to calm and focus yourself through meditation, you learn how to put mindfulness into action.
title: Links Roundup - February 14, 2017
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* Why it's preferable to [read David Sedaris on paper]( (or most any other writer, for that matter)
* Is going offline [becoming the new luxury?](
* Leo Babauta on what productivity systems [won't solve](
* How insane work hours [became a mark of American privilege](
title: How Much Do You Actually Need?
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<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/chaos-227971_640.jpg" alt="Piles of stuff" /></p>
Confession time: I'm not a very materialistic person. I don't feel the need to acquire, in the words of a friend of mine, *piles and piles of stuff*.
Moving to New Zealand in 2012 really forced me to focus on what's important. My family and I had to get rid of most of our worldly possessions, and focus on the essentials that we needed to bring with us. That meant a small knapsack each, a checked or suitcase two each, and my daughter's cello.
But in late 2016, I realized that I have too much stuff. In the last four and a half years, my wife and daughter and I have accumulated quite a bit in the way of possessions. Items big and small. Clothing. And more.
I'm not sure how that happened, but it did.
Since coming to that revelation, I've been doing a gradual clean out of the physical excess in my life.
As part of that exercise, I've been considering *how much* I actually need and *what* I actually need. While I haven't come to a definitive conclusion, I've come to realize what I *don't* need:
* A lot of clothing
* All the latest gadgets, whether electronic or otherwise
* Furniture I rarely, if ever, use
* Piles of CDs
* Various knick-knacks and [tchotchkes]( that seem to pile up
And to that list I've added those items that I've bought that I thought would be useful, but never wound up using. The only things I don't want to give up are my dead trees books. I gave away over 2,000 of them before moving to New Zealand and, being old school, I like them as much as I like ebooks. Maybe a bit more ...
All of the possessions I just listed, and others to boot, don't make me any happier. They don't make me smarter or more productive or more interesting. They definitely don't justify the space that they take up.
As I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago, I'm still unburdening myself. It's a slow process, not because I have a lot to get rid of but because I'm going through the process whenever the mood strikes me. What I'm doing is a beneficial exercise, though. It's showing me what's important and useful in my life. While I haven't pared my possessions back to where I think they should be, I will. And I'll be better off for it.
To wrap up, let me share something [Leo Babauta tweeted in 2015](
>All you need, you already have.
title: Focus on the Work, Not on the Tools
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<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/man-working.jpg" alt="A man, doing paperwork" /></p>
Far too many people, and not just folks who are obsessed with productivity, spend way too much time and effort and mental energy trying to find the *perfect* tool. The tool that, in their minds, will get them to produce more and better work.
That's the wrong mindset to have. Instead of focusing on the tools, you need to focus **on the work**. Tools are secondary. They're a convenience. They're not the most important thing.
What matters is *what* you're doing. What matters is *how* you're doing it. A tool doesn't do the thinking or planning or the actual nuts and bolts of solving a problem for you. Those are the most important parts of performing a task. You, and **only** you, can do any of that.
Tools don't produce better work. Using a modern word processor doesn't make you a better writer. A note-taking app doesn't make you more organized. A task management tool doesn't make you more productive. They can help make you more efficient, but in the end the tool has no bearing on the quality of the work that you do.
Don't worry about tools. Don't agonize over finding the so-called perfect one. Instead, put the lion's share of your energy into **doing the work**. You'll be further ahead of most people if you do that.
title: Links Roundup - February 28, 2017
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* How our smartphone obsession [became the norm](
* [Stop looking]( for the perfect system (for productivity, or anything else)
* Why journaling [makes better leaders]( (good advice for everyone)
* Stop doing [low-value work](
title: How to Think and Act in Increments
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<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/stairs-1627424_640.jpg" alt="One step at a time" /></p>
We seem to be living in the *eternal now*. We want to get through what we have to get through as quickly as possible, if only to move on to the next items on our lists of things to do.
We tend to think in terms of *sprints* and *pushes*. We get frustrated when we don't finish quickly.
That applies to work, to play, to reading, to learning, to ... well, to just about everything. And that's not the best way to approach anything you need or want to do.
Instead of trying to do something in one fell swoop, try thinking and acting in increments.
## Increments?
You've probably heard [the proverb]( that *the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step*. That's what thinking and acting in increments is all about.
You don't focus on the end or the result. You focus on:
1. Getting started
2. Where you are now
3. What you're doing now
It also involves focusing on smaller bits of what you want to do, and fitting those smaller bits into your schedule. You want to take [small steps, not make big splashes](
By adopting this approach, you build, bit by smaller bit, on what you've done the day before.
## An Example
Shortly after it came out, I started reading Thomas Pynchon's *Against the Day*. It was a massive, sprawling novel weighing in at around 1100 pages. The problem was that I felt I needed to devote long stretches of time to the book I read it infrequently, often with large gaps in between reading sessions. I quickly lost the plot which, to be honest, frustrated me.
I decided to start over and to devote 30 to 45 minutes each evening to reading *Against the Day*. That made all the difference.
It took me a while, but I adopting an incremental approach enabled me not to just read but to enjoy the book.
## Steps to Thinking and Acting in Increments
Start by determining **how much time you can set aside each day**. That could be 15 minutes. It could be an hour. Just don't think you have more time than you actually do.
Next, **break down what you want to do**. Split the task into manageable chunks &mdash; for example, reading 20 pages of a book or doing half or all of a module of an online course.
Then, **block that time off**. [Create a schedule)( Follow it. Stick to it as best you can.
Finally, **do it**. There's nothing more I can say about that ...
Thinking and acting in increments goes against the prevailing notion that we need to do more and to do it faster. Thinking and acting in increments takes longer, and in then end you're doing less. In the end, though, what you're doing will be more fulfilling. You'll be going deeper and getting a stronger appreciation for what you're doing.
title: Learning to Say "I Don't Know"
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<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/bark-mark-forest.jpg" alt="A question mark spray painted on a tree" /></p>
Too many people (and *one* is too many) fear admitting that they don't know something. They fear admitting they're not perfect or on top of everything that they think they should be on top of.
They're afraid to say *I don't know*.
The problem is that you can't know everything. You're often thrust into new situations at work or into new social circles. You have new ground to tread, new information to assimilate, new ways of doing things to learn, new people to meet.
Those situations are often outside your knowledge or experience. There's no shame, no matter what some people seem to think, in admitting there are gaps in your knowledge.
If you want to grow and to learn, you need to swallow your pride and say *I don't know*. Say it loudly. Say it clearly. Say it proudly.
To get past your hesitancy, you need to ask yourself *What's the worst that can happen?* Will someone laugh at you? Will they look down upon you? Will they think you're an ignorant lout? If they do, so what? The problem lies with them, not you.
The positives of saying *I don't know* outweigh the negatives. If you say *I don't know*, you'll learn something. You'll grow. That's a great payoff for swallowing your pride and uttering three simple words.
title: Links Roundup - March 14, 2017
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* [8 time management skills]( for engineers (or anyone else)
* How to turn stress and panic [into productivity](
* Having a life outside the office [is actually good for business](
* A guide to [living and travelling more mindfully](
title: Start With a Master Task List
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<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/postit-scrabble-to-do.jpg" alt="The words 'To Do' spelled out in Scrabble tiles over a post it note" /></p>
I don't know how many people I've encountered who are overwhemled by their task lists. With many of them, those task lists go on for several pages.
With that much to do, you'd think those folks would be rushing to put a dent in their lists. That's often not the case.
Far too many people are paralyzed by the sheer amount of what they need to do. And, often, what they *think* they need to do. They don't know where to start. Looking at their task lists causes them to lose any motivation to continue or even just get underway.
The problem, besides having too much on their lists, is that their approach to task management is wrong. It's ineffective. It's the cause of their headaches.
Instead, they need to start with a master task list.
## Master Task List?
As you've probably guessed, that's a master list of everything you need to do. The master task list will be long. But it's your starting point.
Some of you who have long task lists might be saying *I already have a master list*. Well, you do and you don't. You have a list of tasks, but you need to be selective about them. Remember what I said earlier about putting everything you *need* to do on your master list? Well, that's the key to creating an effective an effective master task list.
Take a close look at your task list and pare it down. Remove any *Someday/Never* tasks &mdash; the ones you hope to get to but probably never will. That should send more than a few items from your list into the dustbin. And doing that should reduce your stress a bit.
## Breaking It Down
So you have a master task list. Now what? Create a smaller list, consisting of the tasks you need to do during the current week. I generally advise people to create a list for five days. You can go to seven if you need to.
Then, allocate three or four tasks for each day in the week. After that, get to work.
If you finish your tasks for the day, don't add more to the day's list. Your goal is to do the work and then step back. Your goal *isn't* to jump on the productivity treadmill and do work because you have time to do work. Or, worse, to do work for the sake of doing work. That's not what productivity is about.
Having a master task list, and then breaking it into manageable chunks, can be an effective way to deal with your tasks. No matter how many or few you have. The key is [thinking and acting in increments](, and not doing marathons of work.
That's how you'll become productive. That's how you'll reach done.
title: Understanding How Much Time You Really Have
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<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/pexels-photo-187490.jpeg" alt="A clock" /></p>
How many times have you heard yourself say *If only I had more time ...* Those words have passed my lips far too many times for me to remember.
*If I only had more time ...* Well, you don't. Period. And all those little hacks to save a few seconds here and a few seconds there have done little, if anything, to change that.
You have a set amount of time during the day. And to be productive, you have to understand how much time you really have, and work within that constraint.
Over the decades, I've heard more than a few people say *There are 24 hours in a day. Use them*. That's not good advice. Why? You can't spend all of our waking hours working &mdash; your mind and your body will rebel eventually. You can't cut back too much on sleep. You need time to relax. You need time to [go fallow]( You need time to rest and recharge our bodies and brains.
Staying on the productivity treadmill until you drop doesn't let you do any of that. In the long run, ignoring rest and fallow time hurts you mentally and physically.
Instead, you need to take a close look of how much time you have, and figure out how to use it most effectively.
## How Much Time Do You Have?
That will depend on who you are. Let's use a hypothetical eight-hour day. Yes, I know that many people work longer than that each day. I often do. Let's just use that as a baseline, OK?
During those eight hours, you probably have anywhere from three to five productive hours each day. The rest of the time is taken up by other matters &mdash; meetings, checking and replying to email, office chit chat. And more. Those three to five hours are the one during which you can focus on actual work.
The problem is that those three to five hours aren't contiguous blocks of time. They're blocks of an hour or two spread out during the day. And that's one reason why many people find it hard to maintain momentum and get work done.
## Using Those Blocks of Time
The problem is how to structure your work around those blocks during the day That can be difficult, if only because you can never truly be sure of when those blocks will come together.
Well, not all of the time anyway. Having lived your work day for ... well, as long as you've lived it you should have a decent idea of when those blocks of time will come up. Try charting them out in a calendar or on paper &mdash; that will give you a visual representation of when the best times for work are during your day. Trust me, that visualization helps.
Next, look at your task list for the week. Try to fit your tasks into those blocks of time each day. You might not be able to complete certain tasks during a block, but you can probably made solid headway. Also, try to batch smaller tasks &mdash; like doing administrative chores or following up on emails and phone calls &mdash; into the shorter blocks of time.
Once you've done that, the next step is to get to work. Make sure that people know not to disturb you during those blocks of time. Hang out a **Do Not Disturb** shingle. Set your email and instant messenger status to **Busy**. Put on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. Do whatever you have to do to minimize interruptions.
Taking this approach won't work everyday, nor will it work for everyone. For those of you who do try it and for whom it works, you'll notice that you'll actually get more done.
title: Links Roundup - March 28, 2017
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* [What good is information?](
* [The mind-clearing magic]( of Japan's pen and paper _planner culture_
* Why journalling [makes better leaders]( (good advice, and not just for leaders)
* Tim Ferriss on [avoiding the busy trap](
title: You Don't Need to Dominate or Crush Anything
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<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/hammer-682767_640.jpg" alt="A hammer crushing some nuts" /></p>
There are so many blog posts out there telling us that we need to dominate our niches. That we need to crush ... whatever it is we need to crush. Posts that, whether they intend to or not, fuel a hyper-competitive, win-at-all costs ethos in some readers.
That dominate and crush rhetoric steers you to treat everyone as your enemy. And what happens if you don't dominate or crush? Popular opinion, for what it's worth, says you've failed. It says they've beaten you. It says you've lost.
That's not a healthy way to live or work. You're always looking over your shoulder. You're always worried or fearful of what the so-called competition will do. You're driven to become more aggressive, more ruthless. Often, you wind up being someone and something you're not. Someone and something you never wanted to be.
Instead of being that dominating, crushing juggernaut, why not be yourself? Why not look at others in a different light? Don't treat them as enemies. Look at them as potential allies or colleagues or collaborators instead.
Up until a few years ago, I was considered a top technical communication bloggers. For whatever reason, people in that field considered me influential. I knew (and still know) several other bloggers in that niche. But I didn't go out of my way to try to dominate that niche, to try to crush those other bloggers.
Instead, I *worked with them*. We exchanged guest posts, appeared on each others' podcasts, and promoted and shared each others' work. Sure, we had our disagreements but we were civilized about that and learned from each other.
Not only that, I encouraged and helped a few new bloggers in the technical communication niche. Many people wondered why, thinking that I was just giving the *competition* (their word, not mine) help that would let those new bloggers *steal my audience* (again, their words not mine). That never happened. There was a spirit of mutual respect and cooperation. Working with other bloggers made for a stronger, more diverse niche. Working with other bloggers made me a better blogger and, in a small way, a better person.
That strength and diversity helps everyone. You share and expose new ideas. You get thinking more deeply about what you're involved with. You learn. You grow. Others learn and grow with you, continuing the cycle.