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Commits (2)
---
title: Productivity For the Sake of Productivity
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/fitness-957115_640.jpg" alt="Running on a treadmill" /></p>
>Productivity isn't about speed. It's about being effective. It's about accomplishing things &mdash; and that's about the most important things, not the most things.
>
>&mdash; Leo Babauta
I want to start 2016 off with that thought. And use that thought as one of the pegs on which to hang this blog throughout the year.
Productivity isn't about spending all of your time doing something. People talk about quality of life, work/life balance, and all that. But few achieve a satisfactory level of either. Far too many people willingly jump on to the productivity treadmill &mdash; completing one task then moving on to the next one, ad infinitum. If not that, then they're always on. Email. Instant messaging. Mobile phones. Twitter. Everything else. They're constantly connected, waiting for that next hit of information. Like a junkie jonesing for a fix.
The mistake many people make is believing that they need to fill all their waking hours with *something*. That something could be work, tasks around the house, study, and so much more. They're compelled to do that because if they aren't, they seem to think they're not living their lives to the fullest of their potential.
It's not exactly a great way to live. I'd argue that it's not living at all.
We need to step back and understand (or, in some cases, learn) what's important in life. Productivity is all well and good, but it isn't an end in itself. It's only a means to an end.
---
title: Taking Another Look at Remember the Milk
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/to-do-734587_640.jpg" alt="A task list written in pen" /></p>
It wasn't all that long ago that I was struggling. That I was floundering. That I fairly hopeless at getting and staying organized. Some people would say that not much has changed, but I **have** gotten better. I'm no productivity guru/ninja/Jedi/rock star/superhero but I do OK.
In those days, I spent a lot of time looking at various tools and techniques to help me become more productive and organized. My main focus was finding the right task list. I looked at several, then one day happily stumbled upon [Remember the Milk](http://rememberthemilk.com) (RTM for short). At the time, it was what I was looking for. Not only did RTM work on the web, I could sync it to my Ubuntu desktop with an application called [Tasque](https://wiki.gnome.org/Apps/Tasque) and on my Blackberry with a Blackberry app. On top of that, I could integrate my tasks into Google Calendar
I used RTM for a couple of years, then moved on when my needs and my philosophy about organization and productivity changed. But late in 2015 I decided, on a whim, to take another look at RTM.
<!--more-->
## Plus &Ccedil;a Change
When I logged into RTM after so long, it was a pleasant surprise to see that not much had changed.
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/rtm-web.png" alt="Remember the Milk web interface" /></p>
It's the same page, which allows me to enter tasks, categorize them, set due dates, set a priority, and more. Admittedly it's not the prettiest or most modern interface &mdash; especially when compared to rivals like Any.do or Wunderlist &mdash; but it gets the job done. I know some people will balk at RTM's interface, but looks aren't everything.
## Going Mobile
As I mentioned earlier, I used RTM heavily on my old Blackberry Curve. It's been a while since I had that phone, but I do have an Android device. The [RTM Android app](http://www.rememberthemilk.com/services/android/) is easy to use and works quite nicely.
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/rtm-android-2.png" alt="Remember the Milk Android app" /></p>
Everything that I can do on the web I can do on my phone with the app. All the functions I need (and a few that I don't use) are a tap or a swipe away.
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/rtm-android-1.png" alt="Remember the Milk Android app" /></p>
I can also use RTM with my Pebble Time smartwatch. There's a Pebble app called TaskChecker that does a decent job.
## Final Thoughts
It didn't take me long to get back into the swing of things with RTM. I had to make a few minor tweaks to the way I work with a task manager, but it didn't take long for my muscle memory (so to speak) to kick in. It was almost as if I'd never left.
Will I go back to using RTM full time? I'm not sure. RTM has more features than I need from a task list. If I want to take advantage of RTM's advanced features, I'd have to get a Pro account. I'm still not sure that's worth $25 per year to me.
Despite its slightly dated user interface and having more features that I need, I still think that RTM is a solid task manager. It might not be right for me, but who says it isn't right for you?
---
title: Spending Time with a Smartwatch
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/smart-watch-889639_640.jpg" alt="A typical smartwatch" /></p>
In November, 2015 I did something quite out of the ordinary for me: I bought myself a new gadget. Specifically, a smartwatch &mdash; a [Pebble Time](https://www.pebble.com/pebble-time-smartwatch-features), in case you're wondering.
It's been years since I've worn a watch, and until recently I had no interest in buying or using a smartwatch. While the Pebble Time was a quasi-impulse buy, I thought it might be useful. In what way, I wasn't sure.
Here's what I've learned living with a smartwatch for the last two months.
<!--more-->
## Why the Pebble Time?
And not an Android Wear watch, an Apple Watch, or a Samsung Gear device? Two main reasons.
First, price. The Pebble Time cost **a lot** less than other smartwatches. If I wound up not liking it, I wouldn't be out of pocket that much.
Second, simplicity. If you've been reading posts in this space for any length of time, you know I like things simple. As few frills as possible. Sure, the Pebble Time doesn't have a touch screen but that's not a deal breaker for me. Neither is the small number of apps in the Pebble ecosystem.
## Initial Thoughts
Most smartwatches aren't that smart. They rely on a connection to a smartphone to carry out most tasks (aside from telling time). A smartwatch is more a dumb terminal or fancy remote control for a watch than anything else. It's definitely not the Dick Tracy Two-Way Wrist Radio I coveted as a child.
In fact, my smartwatch kind of reminds me of the [REX PDA](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/REX_6000) I owned in the early 2000s. Like my smartwatch, the REX had a limited set of functions. I had to plug the device into my desktop computer to sync it.
That doesn't make a smartwatch useless, though. You just need to adjust your expectations to the limitations of the device.
## Using the Watch
For more than telling time, I mean. And, before you ask, I did install a few watchfaces (including a Mickey Mouse one!).
To be honest, I wasn't sure how I'd use the Pebble Time. I spent a few days exploring various apps, and wound up with a core of three or four that I regularly use.
For the most part, my Pebble Time is a remote control and a notification centre. I use it to control the media player on my phone, and to receive alerts of text messages, emails, phone calls, and calendar events and appointments. The only third-party apps I use are Workmate (to control my calendar and to manage my to-do list via Google Tasks) and a timer app.
None of that is too exciting, I admit. As I wrote several pargraphs ago, the Pebble Time is *simple*. The watch's lack of reliance on apps is one of the factors that attracted me to it. I find that the Timeline &mdash; which offers a summary of important information like calendar events, my schedule, the weather, and notifications &mdash; is more useful than any app.
## Can a Smartwatch Make You More Productive?
No tool alone will make you more productive. A tool can help you stay on track, but you need to do the real work. A smartwatch is convenient, though. You don't have to be constantly pulling out your phone to check messages and notifications &mdash; they're on your wrist.
Even though I've been living with a smartwatch for two months, I'm still experimenting with it. I'm still trying to figure out what else to do with it. Maybe there isn't anything more that one can do for me.
In the end, a smartwatch is just another tool. I treat my Pebble Time that way, and that's good enough for me.
---
title: Links Roundup - January 18, 2016
layout: post
---
* There are times when you should use technology, and [times you shouldn't](https://medium.com/bright/it-s-not-nostalgia-it-s-common-sense-388fa0f671b1)
* Screw productivity tips that [only make your life more stressful](https://www.themuse.com/advice/my-motto-screw-productivity-tips-that-only-make-your-life-more-stressful)
* The joys of [slow computing](http://www.newrepublic.com/article/121832/pleasure-do-it-yourself-slow-computing)
* [16 tactics](http://www.mintfull.com/blog/how-to-sleep-better/) that can help you sleep better
---
title: Why I Went Back to Workflowy
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/tools-690038_640.jpg" alt="A bunch of tools in a workshop" /></p>
In early 2015, I decided to thin out the number of tools that I was using. I wasn't using dozens of different tools, but there were a couple or three that overlapped.
One of them was [Workflowy](http://scottnesbitt.info/2012/10/08/workflowy/). Or so I thought ... I tried using Simplenote for the tasks that I did in Workflowy. It didn't work out quite the way I had hoped. I go to the point where I felt I was awkwardly shoehorning those tasks into Simplenote.
So, in late 2015 I signed up for a new Workflowy account. Why? Workflowy works in a way that mirrors my thought processes. There's definitely a *flow* to it, and because I use Workflowy in a focused way I can quickly keep track of what I need to do and can plan effectively.
What do I use use Workflowy to do? What I used it to do in the past:
* Create editorial calendars for my blogs
* Plan various other pieces of writing
* Outline books, essays, articles, and blog posts
* Track tasks
I could do all of that in tools like Simplenote, Google Keep, or Evernote. And I have in the past. But, as I mentioned earlier, it felt like I was trying to fit the square peg of what I do into the round hole of those tools. It could be done, but not as comfortably as I wanted to.
I don't regret moving away from Workflowy. It was a good learning experience, and one which showed me both the value and the limitations of the tools I use.
---
title: Dealing With Your Ideas
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/notes-514998_640.jpg" alt="A pen, a notebook, and a crumpled ball of paper" /></p>
We all have ideas. Ideas for businesses, services, apps, a blog post or an article or a book. With some of us, those ideas come in fast and furious. With others, ideas come in a slow trickle. In either case, those ideas tend to pile up either on slips of paper, in notebooks, or in tools like Simplenote or Evernote.
A lot of ideas come into my head each week &mdash; for articles, for blog posts, for ebooks, and more. A majority of those ideas wither and die on the vine. Why? Often, I just don't have the time to tackle them. But in some cases, the ideas aren't any good.
In the past, I'd cling to ideas with a knuckle-whitening death grip. Years would pass, and those ideas would still linger. Then, one day I asked myself a hard question:
>Is it worthwhile to hold on to those ideas, whether they're on paper or in a digital form, until you can tackle them or better develop them?
After a lot of thought, I came to a conclusion. That conclusion? **Get rid of those ideas**. Stuffing them away like a squirrel hoarding nuts for winter isn't going to do any good. It won't get you any closer to making those ideas a reality. You'll just increase your digital or paper clutter, and older ideas will be buried under newer ones.
Chances are you won't be getting to any of those ideas, either newer or older. Ever. And unless you regularly review your ideas, I wouldn't be surprised if you forget about older ones. Yes, this is the voice of experience speaking.
Some people just can't let go of ideas. The thought of ruthlessly hacking away at those ideas causes them psychic pain. They freeze and the hoarding continues.
If that describes you, then ask yourself these questions when confronted with your ideas:
* Will you be able to devote time to those ideas in the near future? By near future, I mean the next two to four weeks
* Are there markets for those ideas?
* Can you fully develop the ideas into something tangible?
If you answer to any of those questions is **no** then send the idea into the trash bin. You'll have less to worry about and more time and mental energy to focus on the projects and ideas that are really important.
---
title: Embrace Failure
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/woman-1006102_640.jpg" alt="A woman with her head in her hands, crying" /></p>
(**Note:** This post was originally published, in a slightly different form, at [Words on a Page](https://woaprewound.wordpress.com/2010/02/17/the-quality-of-your-failures-can-determine-the-quality-of-your-success/), and appears here via a Creative Commons license.)
**Failure**.
It's not a four-letter word, but it's treated like one. It supposedly has a stench. If nothing else, failure has a number of negative connotations &mdash; both perceptually and psychologically.
Failure isn't a word many of us like to hear. But failure is more than a word or an idea, though. It's a force that can mold you. A force that can drive you to strive to succeed. Or a force that can crush you. It's a force that forces you to pull back from a trying something and not try it again.
As blogger [Ivan Walsh](http://www.ivanwalsh.com/) wrote:
>The problem is that we don’t fail enough.
>
>If you want to be a chess grandmaster, then you need to play (and get beat 100s) of times to build up the critical mass of knowledge that’s required.
>
>It’s when you don’t learn from failure, then you’ve got a problem.
<!--more-->
I think that the reason we don't fail enough is because we never allow ourselves to fail. Most people tend to play it safe. They insulate themselves from failure by staying within their own comfort zones. They never try to break free. If they do, they do so half heartedly.
The stones on the path to success are formed from failure. It's not always failure on a grand scale, either. Little failures, small screw ups, help shape us.
To grow in any profession or even just as a person, you need to experience failure. And how you respond to failure will help determine whether or not you'll succeed.
Here's an example: say you're a technical writer who wants to branch out into copywriting or penning whitepapers. Two very lucrative areas with a lot of competition. On top of that, copywriting and whitepaper writing aren't as easy as they seem.
You can be sure that your first attempts at banging out copy or a whitepaper will be less than spectacular. If you're doing it for a client or your employer, what you produce will probably be rejected. With some level of prejudice. A lot of people will pack it in when that happens.
If you really want to succeed, though, you'll look at this failure with a critical and impartial eye. Well, once the initial sting of failure fades. Look at why your attempt failed. Ask the people who turned you down why they turned you down.
Analyze. Learn. Make more mistakes. Fail a few more times. As Ivan said, *build up the critical mass of knowledge that's required.* Once you do that, failure in that area will be a thing of the past (more or less). After that, you should have the confidence to move on to something new.
---
title: Taking a Quick Look at Do Way, Way More in WorkFlowy
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/business-690675_640.jpg" alt="A man fiddling with a smartphone, with a book in front of him" /></p>
Frank Degenaar likes WorkFlowy. **A lot**. So much so that the folks behind WorkFlowy appointed him blogger in residence. If that wasn't enough, he also wrote a book about it. *[Do Way, Way More in WorkFlowy](http://www.productivitymashup.com/do-way-way-more-in-workflowy)* is the definitive guide to the application. As the title suggests, you'll be introduced to ways of using WorkFlowy that you might not have imagined.
Let's take a quick look at it.
<!--more-->
## Getting the Lay of the Land
When I started using WorkFlowy, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with it or what it could do. WorkFlowy was a blank canvas. Several of the people I've coached over the years also ran into that problem.
To get around that, Degenaar patiently explains what WorkFlowy is, what it does, and what it can do. Most importantly, he focuses on what he calls WorkFlowy's superpower: *zoomability* (which lets you focus on a single item by clicking its heading).
## Getting Down to Work
Now that you understand what WorkFlowy is all about, it's time to get to work.
Degenaar doesn't go into *everything* that you can potentially do with WorkFlowy. And that's a good thing, because the book would run far longer than it's 254 pages! Instead, he focuses on:
* Using tags and search
* Hyperlinking
* Managing tasks
* Journaling
* Using WorkFlowy with other applications
* How to plan and write a book with WorkFlowy
The chapters I found most interesting were the ones that covered using tags, managing tasks, and journaling.
## Effectively Using Tags
That's something I haven't really done as much as I should have in WorkFlowy. Tags are like shortcuts. You add them to items in WorkFlowy to make them easier to find. The beauty of tags, as Degenaar points out, is that they give you fast access to specific tasks and to items in outlines and lists. Tags save you a lot time searching and hunting.
Degenaar suggests adding tags to titles of lists, not just to individual items in your lists so:
>When one engages (clicks on) a tag in a parent list, it will connect you to a tag in a child list, no matter how deep in the hierarchy. Then one simply clicks on the bullet of the child list to zoom in.
He also advises adding tags at top of a WorkFlowy page for even faster access. If you use a lot of tags, that can get messy. However, if you limit the number of tags you use, this technique can be very effective.
## Task Management
The way I manage my tasks in WorkFlowy [is quite simple](http://scottnesbitt.info/2013/03/28/task_management_with_workflowy/). That works for me, but it might not be enough for other people.
Degenaar's system for task management is heavily influenced by a productivity system called Getting Things Done (GTD for short). And while I'm [not a fan of GTD](http://scottnesbitt.info/2015/07/15/GTD/), some of what Degenaar covers in this chapter is useful and applies to the way I handle my tasks.
Degenaar bases task management around [Covey's time management grid](http://www.yourcoach.be/en/blog/index.php/how-to-set-priorities-stephen-covey-time-management-grid/), a way of adding priority to your tasks. But, as he points out:
>What’s important is to find some method of consistently deciding which tasks you deem most valuable each day… and sticking with it.
To be honest Degenaar lost me when he discussed how to use [tickler files](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tickler_file) *to set a (manual) hands-on "reminder" for future tasks which will stream towards you, one day at a time* and to deal with recurring tasks. I've tried incorporating both into my workflow in the past and neither did much to help make me more productive. They merely added a layer of complexity where I didn't see the need for such a layer.
I was, however, intrigued by the way in which Degenaar applied [the Pomodoro Technique](http://scottnesbitt.info/2015/08/05/pomodoro/) to WorkFlowy. That involved, in true Pomodoro fashion, noting down what he needed to cover in each chapter of this book, breaking them down into individual Pomodoro, and then tackling each one. It definitely adds focus to the idea of task list.
## Journaling
Like Degenaar, I'm not a prolific journaler. Weeks, even months, can go by between journal entries. While I always realized that WorkFlowy can be an effective tool to maintain a personal journals, *Do Way, Way More in Workflowy* showed me just how effective it can be.
Degenaar advises tagging journal entries when and if possible. Why? To make them easier to find (hey, you might want to revisit some entries in the future!) and to link them to tasks or outlines. Those journal entries might also hold ideas you'll want to use in the future. Tagging helps you find them faster, especially if you have a tag list at the top of your page.
## Final Thoughts
*Do Way, Way More in WorkFlowy* goes a long way to dispel the idea that WorkFlowy is nothing more than a big bullet list. I've been using the application for quite a while, and I learned more than a couple of new tricks from this book.
A lot of what *Do Way, Way More in WorkFlowy* covers doesn't mesh with the way I use WorkFlowy, or with my philosophy about productivity. Having said that, it's a book that I wish I had when I first started using WorkFlowy. The book would have helped turn my early stumbles into confident steps.
Whether you're just getting started with WorkFlowy or have been using it for a while, you'll learn something new from *Do Way, Way More in WorkFlowy*. It's definitely worth [the $9.95 price tag](http://www.productivitymashup.com/do-way-way-more-in-workflowy).
---
title: Achieving Your Goals Through Personal Bootstrapping
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/whiteboard-849812_640.jpg" alt="Someone writing on a whiteboard at a startup" /></p>
You might have heard the term *boostrapping* bandied about. Usually, it's spoken in relation to startups. The term comes from the phase *Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps*, meaning doing something on your own without any outside help.
When an entrepreneur bootstraps a company, they fund it themselves. They use their own money &mdash; savings, loans from friends and family, maxed-out credit cards, or the money they earn from side gigs &mdash; to start and keep the business afloat until it starts making money.
It's an interesting concept. And you can apply the philosophy of bootstrapping to endeavours outside of business. You can apply that philosophy to what you're trying to do or trying to learn, too.
Here are some thoughts about how to do personal bootstrapping.
<!--more-->
## Start By Scaling Back
We all have grand plans, we all have something that we want to do as quickly and as efficiently as possible. But if you have a limited amount of time to do something, you won't achieve your goals as quickly as you want to.
Instead, scale back your expectations. Scale back your goals. Fit what you want to do into the time you have to do it each day.
Be realistic. And expect to slip every so often.
How do you scale back? You ...
## Focus
Think in terms of [minimum viable product](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minimum_viable_product). Think in terms of what need to do to get:
* Your idea up and running.
* A solid grounding in what you're trying to learn.
Take language learning, for example. When most people try to learn a language they start from the beginning and make a long slog to more advanced levels. Back in the 1980s, I knew a person who taught himself financial Japanese for his work. He could comfortably read and write around finance, and even talk and give short presentations on the subject. He couldn't, however, have a more general conversation. At least, not at first. He eventually broadened his vocabulary, but that wasn't his focus at the time.
Take what I call an *A-B-C ... N-O-P ...* approach &mdash; get a handle on the basics, then jump ahead to more advanced knowledge or topics. Or, put together a basic product, start selling it, then add to it gradually.
## Set a time frame
And make that time frame reasonable. Don't expect to be able to learn to program a custom shopping cart for your website with [PHP](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PHP) in six hours. On the other hand, don't spend more than an afternoon setting up your personal or business [presence on the web](https://woaprewound.wordpress.com/2014/07/16/quickly-building-your-online-presence/).
How do you know how long something will take? It's hard to estimate something you don't know about. The best way to come up with an estimate is to ask someone who's done something similar. Better yet, ask several someones. Then, average out the amount of time they tell you. Add 5% to 10% to the estimate just in case &mdash; the unexpected tends to happen and it will throw a wrench into your plans.
## Think About What You Need
And then get it.
That could be books, software, courses, subscriptions. Anything that will help you reach your goal.
Remember that you'll be spending your own money on those items. You need to ask yourself a few questions:
* Do you really need all of it?
* Are there cheaper or free alternatives?
* Is there any way to defray the costs (like splitting them with someone else or buying used)?
Again, think minimum viable. Then, supplement what you have when (and only when) you need to.
## Do the Work
You can do all the thinking and planning and scoping you want. But until you start working, and *finish* what you've started, all that thinking and planning and scoping is worthless. Ideas are cheap. Results, no matter how small, are what count.
And don't discount small results. Take [small, steady steps](http://scottnesbitt.info/2014/10/29/small_steps/) towards your goal. At each milestone, [show your work](http://feint.me/articles/show-your-work).
You might only have 30 minutes a day to do the work, but those 30 minutes add up. They're not like time you supposedly saved. You'll actually see the results of those 30 minutes, and far sooner than you expect.
---
title: "Links Roundup - February 15, 2016"
layout: post
---
* A writer spends *[seven days in the wild, cut off from humanity, without even his Instagram feed for company](http://www.esquire.com/lifestyle/a35516/alone-in-scotland-essay/)*
* A look at the [uneasy marriage of digital and manual systems](http://barrymorris.net/the-uneasy-marriage-of-digital-and-manual-systems/)
* Stop being [a productivity nerd](http://feint.me/articles/chill-out-productivity)
* One man's year of [digital detox](http://www.outsideonline.com/1926796/reboot-or-die-trying)
---
title: How to Create a Goal Template
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/darts-856367_640.jpg" alt="Darts on a dartboard" /></p>
While I have something of a [like/dislike relationship](http://scottnesbitt.info/2012/09/17/trouble_with_goals/) with goals, I realize they can be useful. It's just a matter of tweaking those goals.
In the past, I've seen far too many people proclaim some very nebulous goals. Goals like *I want to learn x* or *I want to do y*. Most of them never achieve their goals because those goals are so vague.
A vague goal is where you start. When you have the goal, you need to break it down into smaller pieces. Something that can help you do that is a *goal template*.
<!--more-->
## Goal Template?
The idea behind a goal template is similar to that of a task list. You break your goal down into small steps or tasks. Then, you plug one of those steps or tasks into your goal template.
The goal template should ask three questions:
1. What do I want to do?
2. When do I want to do it by?
3. How am I going to do it?
Then, answer each question. Simple, no?
## Keep Your Goals, and Your Goal Template, Focused
I've found that setting up either a daily or weekly template works best. Doing that allows you to focus on the step or task at hand. And it should be one step or task. For a weekly template, two at the most.
Why focus? If you don't, you'll try to bite off more than you can chew and you won't finish. Life also has a habit of [getting in the way](http://scottnesbitt.info/2014/05/07/things_will_get_in_the_way/).
Here's an example: let's say you want to read more this year. The book you decide to tackle is *[Gravity's Rainbow](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravity%27s_Rainbow)*, which weighs in at almost 800 pages. Setting a daily goal of reading 100 pages probably isn't going to work. The book is quite dense, and there's a lot to take in. Plus, you might only have an hour to read each night. Instead, you can set a weekly goal of 100 or 200 pages which you can probably accomplish by setting aside 30 to 60 minutes each evening.
No matter how complex or challenging your goal is, breaking it down into smaller steps or tasks will make that goal more manageable. Putting those smaller chunks into a template will make achieving that goal smoother and easier. You'll know what you need to do, and when you'd like to do it by.
Just to give you a head start, [here's a sample goal template](https://docs.google.com/document/d/1FghOzQ0lIjbfrCQoolp5jPq2jluTkbBicF1DcRK0AwI/edit?usp=sharing). It's a Google Doc, but you can download it as a word processor file. I hope you find it useful.
---
title: Thoughts About Feature Parity
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/justice-423446_640.jpg" alt="A set of scales" /></p>
Last year, I briefly chatted with John O'Nolan, founder of the blogging platform [Ghost](http://ghost.org). You're probably wondering why the web needs another blogging platform, when WordPress powers millions of blogs and runs about 25% of all websites.
O'Nolan used to work for Automattic (the company behind WordPress). But he [found that WordPress had](http://john.onolan.org/project-ghost/):
>too much stuff everywhere, too much clutter, too many (so many) options getting in the way of what I really want to do: publish content
Instead, O'Nolan wanted to take blogging back to basics. And Ghost was born.
<!--more-->
During our chat, O'Nolan mentioned that he didn't intend for Ghost to reach feature parity with WordPress. Ever. That's not the niche the Ghost inhabits.
I wholeheartedly agree with O'Nolan. Not everyone is a power user, regardless of what many software developers seem to think. Not everyone needs their software and tools to do the same things.
But the feature parity argument persists. I generally hear it from people who are thinking of switching to something that doesn't pack all of the features found in the tool or application they usually use. Regardless of whether they use those features or not. And it's usually not.
I find the feature parity argument comes from two distinct directions. First, from people who use it as a crutch. A crutch that gives them an excuse not to try something new or to make a change, even if that something new or that change will simplify and streamline their digital lives.
Second, from people who whine about missing features and only do so because they can. They aren't the application's the target audience. Even if the tool did have the features they want (or think they need), I doubt they'd use it. I doubt the tool would be suited to their needs.
If feel you can't adopt a tool because it lacks _feature x_ or _feature y_, or because it can't perform a certain task, ask yourself these three questions:
* How often do I use feature x or feature y?
* If I do use those features, will I actually miss them?
* Is that task the tool can't perform one that's important to me?
From my experience as a technology coach, I've found that many people rarely (if ever) use the features that are supposedly deal breakers. They just need to take a little time to adapt and adjust.
Feature parity isn't something that's important to everyone. More features, especially if you don't use them, aren't always better. It's too easy to fall into the contingency mindset when it comes to features &mdash; thinking that maybe one day you'll need *feature x*, even though that day rarely comes.
Don't buy into the hype of feature parity. Instead of thinking in terms of features, think about what you need to do. Not at some point in the distant future, but **right now**. Then, think of what you need to do it. Chances are, you'll discover that you don't need something big and powerful to get your work done. You probably just need something simple, light, and streamlined.
---
title: Complex versus Simple
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/balance-15712_640.jpg" alt="Three stones on the shoreline" /></p>
Sometime in the autumn of 2005, my wife bought some educational software for our daughter. It looked interesting, and quite comprehensive. Unfortunately, it was anything but straightforward. Each task or lesson had a lengthy preamble attached to it, setting up the task with a convoluted story. And there wasn't any way to skip the preamble.
My wife got very frustrated with the software. My daughter ... well, she got bored, wandered off and picked up a book to read.
While this was going on, I installed some educational software on one of my Linux-powered laptops &mdash; specifically, [GCompris](http://gcompris.net/index-en.html) and [Tux Typing](http://tux4kids.alioth.debian.org/tuxtype/). Within minutes, my daughter was using (and I hope learning from) the software. All without the annoying narration and setup. The Linux software that I installed was simple; some would say boring. But it worked.
That taught me a valuable lesson: often, the simple choice is better than the complex choice. Especially when it comes to tools &mdash; whether they're productivity and organization tools, writing tools, or tools for learning.
Simple offers a number of advantages over complex. There's less overhead, both cognitive and digital. There's less to distract you. Simple is faster. It's often more effective.
Simple lets you get the job done. Quickly, easily, and with the minimum of headaches. Simple keeps you focused on what you're doing.
Simple just works. And it lets you work. And learn. And play.
Sure, there are people who need a more complex option. Most of us, though, can get by without that complexity. In most cases, I'd say we can do more than get by.
Don't default to the complex in anything. Consider a simpler option, a simpler path. For most of what you do, simple is more than good enough.
---
title: It's Not a Competition
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/work-1001043_640.jpg" alt="People working at computers" /></p>
You see or hear or read about it a lot. Probably every day. Someone who's always doing more. Always cramming more work and and more learning and more accomplishments into their lives.
Someone who's held up as an example of what productivity, what work, what a professional life is all about.
Then, somewhere inside you feel a pang. It might be a pang of envy or a pang of regret. It might be the start of a stirring. A stirring that makes you want try to play catch up. To emulate that person and to do or learn or work more. To try to compete and out pace them.
<!--more-->
When you feel that pang, when you feel that stirring there's something you need to keep in mind. **It's not a competition**.
Work, productivity, and learning aren't a game of one upmanship. Doing more doesn't make you special. It doesn't mark you with badges of honour or greatness. It just means that you're doing more work.
Ask yourself this question: *Why do I want to do more?* Is it because you actually have more to do? Is it because you really, really, really want to do more? Or is because you're feeling left behind?
I've asked people about that and usually the latter has been their answer. That's not a reason, or even an excuse, to pile more on your plate.
Instead of jumping on the productivity assembly line, ask yourself:
* How does all this additional work fits in with my goals?
* Is this extra work meaningful?
* What do I hope to achieve in the end?
Unless you can come up with a [compelling reason](http://scottnesbitt.info/2014/06/11/the_compelling_reason/) to do more, don't. You'll just wind up in what will come to feel like an endless slog. You won't be better off, and you'll have less time to do what you actually want to do or enjoy doing.
If you're gripped by the need to compete against someone who seems uber productive, just remember this tweet by Scott Berkun:
<p align="center"><a href="https://twitter.com/berkun/status/623948117235400704" target="_blank"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/berkun_quote.png" alt="I realize many (most?) famous/uber/productive people are deeply miserable. Work is all they have." /></a></p>
That, I think, puts it all into perspective.
---
title: Links Roundup - March 14, 2016
layout: post
---
* How one person learned to get a lot done [without being busy](https://medium.com/on-breaking-the-mold/how-i-learned-to-get-a-lot-done-without-being-busy-7989f7b300de)
* [Declutter your brain](http://www.tipsywriter.com/blog/how-to-declutter-your-brain-by-decluttering-your-life/) by decluttering your life
* Leo Babauta with some advice around [worrying about what you're not doing](http://zenhabits.net/not-doing/)
* Thoughts about the [lost art of introspection](http://expertenough.com/2990/the-lost-art-of-introspection-why-you-must-master-yourself)
---
title: How to Manage Your Work with Trello
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/deans-936599_640.jpg" alt="A bunch of Post It notes" /></p>
Managing your work &mdash; figuring out which tasks to carry out and scheduling them &mdash; can be difficult. Not only are there other things competing for our attention, there's only so much time in the day.
There are any number of tools that you can use to help you manage your work. You've probably used or test driven as many (or maybe even more) than I have. One tool that I find effective in helping me manage some of my work is [Trello](http://www.trello.com).
Trello is an online tool that represents tasks visually. It's based on an idea known as _[kanban](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanban)_. Kanban was originally used to schedule tasks in factories by representing tasks on cards and then moving those cards through production process.
The idea behind kanban was adopted by software development shops that use a method of creating software called Agile. Instead of cards, those shops used sticky notes which they move across a whiteboard divided into the phases of the software development cycle.
Trello takes that idea and puts it on the web, in a graphical and easy-to-use format. While Trello is usually used by teams, you can also use for your own work.
Let's take a look at using Trello to manage your work.
<!--more-->
## A Caveat or Two
It's easy to try to use Trello for _everything_. I know people who use Trello to manage their daily task lists and their shopping lists. While you can use Trello for those sorts of things, I'm not sure if those are the best uses of the tool. I prefer to use Trello for projects, like planning and writing ebooks or developing the outline of a plan for clients.
When you're creating a project, try to limit the number of lists on your board. I usually have anywhere from three to five lists. Most of my projects have the following lists: **Planning**, **In Progress**, **Blocked**, **Ready for Editing**, and **Completed**. Sometimes, I don't use a **Blocked** list (which indicates that a task has stalled).
Formulate a plan _before_ you create your board and its lists. Focus on a single project and think about the phases and tasks that make up that project.
## Learning the Language
There's a little terminology that you'll need to learn before you can effectively use Trello. Those terms are *boards*, *lists*, and *cards* which are:
* A board is the container for your project
* A list represents a stage of project &mdash; for example, _In Progress_ or _Done_
* A card represents a task
That wasn't too difficult, was it? Let's dive into using Trello.
## Getting to Work
Start off by [getting a Trello account](https://trello.com/signup). It's free. Once you've created the account, sign in. You're taken to a screen with a list of boards.
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/trello_new_board.png" alt="The main screen in Trello" /></p>
Click __Create New Board__. Give the board a title and then click **Create**.
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/trello_create_board.png" alt="Adding detail about a board" /></p>
You wind up with an empty board. The board is a blank canvas, onto which you'll need to put some lists. To do that, click **Add a List**. Give your list a name and then click **Add*.
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/trello_add_list.png" alt="Adding a list to a Trello a board" /></p>
Repeat that for all the lists you want to add to your board.
Next, add some cards your *first* list. Think of that first list, the one on the far left, as the staging area for your cards. Click **Add a card**, then describe the task &mdash; for example *Write blog post announcing book*. When you're done, click **Add**.
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/trello_add_card.png" alt="Adding a card to Trello" /></p>
You can assign due dates to your cards by clicking the __Edit__ icon and then clicking __Change Due Date__. Select the date by which the task needs to be done, and then click __Save__.
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/trello_edit_task.png" alt="Assigning due dates to tasks" /></p>
Again, repeat that until you've created all the cards you need. You can, if necessary, add more cards later.
Now that all set up, what next? As you start to carry out tasks, move your cards from one list to another. Just click and drag the card with your mouse. Keep doing that until all your cards are in your __Completed__ list (or whatever you named it).
While a project is in progress, your board should look something like this:
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/trello_board_with_cards.png" alt="In progress board" /></p>
That's a pretty simple use of Trello for managing work. But it works well for me. I don't always use Trello to manage my work, but when I have a fairly hefty project, Trello helps me stay on top of what I need to do.
---
title: Stay Humble, Stay Hungry
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/humble-732566_640.jpg" alt="Humble" /></p>
There comes a point when we're learning or doing something at which we gain a certain level of skill or proficiency. While we might not be experts, we've gone well beyond the basics.
With that level of skill or proficiency comes confidence. And a bit of arrogance. I don't mean to write *arrogance* in the pejorative. What I mean by that is we sometimes get an inflated, or at least distorted, idea of our abilities.
We figure that we're further along the road of mastery or expertise than we really are. We assume that we've learned enough or that we're at a point where we can idle or coast. We're no longer as hungry for success, for progress as we were at the beginning of the journey.
That attitude slows us us down. That attitude keeps us from achieving our goals.
I've fallen victim to that attitude a few times and learned the hard way how damaging that attitude can be.
The solution? **Stay humble**. These days, humility is treated like a four-letter word. It isn't. Humility isn't a weakness. Humility isn't a black mark.
Humility is a realization. A realization that we've come some distance on our journeys, but that we know we have quite a ways further to go.
Humility is understanding that the skills and knowledge and experience we've gained will take only so far. For some of us that might be enough. For others of us, we may need to see the journey to its end.
That realization keeps us hungry. Knowing that we have more to learn, more to understand, more room to grow pushes us forward to achieve our goals, to reach the end of the road.
So stay humble. Stay hungry. That will drive you forward to achieving what you want to achieve.
---
title: Organizing Yourself With Plain Text
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/coding-699318_640.jpg" alt="Typing in a text editor" /></p>
Back when I started this blog in 2012, one of my goals was to share techniques and tips for living and working in plain text. I haven't done that for a while. Quite a while, in fact.
It's not that I've abandoned plain text. Not at all. I use it more than ever these days. It's just that ... well, other topics and ideas for this space just got in the way.
Recently, though, approached me to help him become a bit more organized and a bit more productive. He works on a couple of old laptops and 1) doesn't feel the need to replace them, and 2) doesn't want to install any new software or get an account with any web application. I relish challenges like that!
With that in mind, I asked him if he'd consider using plain text. He was, understandably, a bit apprehensive. He's used to working in word processors; text editors are a bit foreign to him. After a few words of encouragement, my client was game. While I wasn't surprised, the results were better than he expected.
Let's take a look at how I helped my client become more organized using plain text. This advice could help you, too.
<!--more-->
## What You'll Need
The only tool you need is a text editor. Every operating system comes with one, so you don't need to install any new software on your computer. You can, however, download any number of free or open source text editors. Use your favourite search engine to find and test drive a couple.
If you're going to edit your text files one multiple devices &mdash; for example, a laptop, a smartphone, and a tablet &mdash; you'll want an easy to make those files accessible to all your devices. I suggest using file syncing tools like [Dropbox](http://dropbox.com), [Google Drive](http://drive.google.com), [ownCloud](https://owncloud.org/), or [Box](https://www.box.com/).
Most tablets and smartphones don't pack a text editor. You can find one in your app store of choice.
## Organizing with Plain Text
I realize that plain text has limitations. But it's perfect for the following jobs:
* Task lists
* Checklists
* Daily plans or schedules
* Personal journal
You're not limited to those choices. You can use a text file for just about anything.
Get started by creating a folder on you computer to hold your text files. I often call that folder *Admin* (short for *administration*). Then, create sub folders under it for types of text files that you plan to use.
Here's a look at a sample *Admin* folder I created on my Chromebook:
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/plain_text-admin_folder.png" alt="An example directory structure" /></p>
While it's easy enough just to dump text files into each of those sub folders, I advised my coaching client to organize his task lists, daily plans, and journal entries by week. Here's an example:
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/plain_text-task_breakdown.png" alt="Breaking down entries by week" /></p>
## Naming Your Text Files
Keep the names simple. Where necessary, include the date and the purpose of the file.
For example, let's say you're naming your daily task lists. You can use a name like **Tasks - Feb 2.txt** or **02022016 - Tasks.txt**. Use whatever naming convention works best for you.
For checklists, which might not have a date, use a name that corresponds to the checklist's purpose &mdash; for example **Travel Checklist.txt**.
## Structuring Your Text Files
Again, keep the structure and the contents of your text files as simple as possible. Let's take a look at the structure of the text files for the four jobs I listed earlier.
### Task List
Your task list should contain two elements:
* A heading at the top of the file &mdash; for example, _Tasks for February 22, 2016:_
* Your list of tasks
Put an asterisk (\*) in front each task, to act as a bullet. Add the status of the task in square brackets at the start or end of the line. I use the following statuses:
* DONE
* IN PROGRESS
* BLOCKED
Here's an example of a plain task list:
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/plain_text-task_list.png" alt="A task list in a text editor" /></p>
### Checklist
Checklists have the same format as task lists. You include a heading at the top of the file, but instead of an asterisk you put square brackets, with a space in between, in front of each item in the list.
When complete an item in the list, put an *x* between square brackets. Here's an example:
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/plain_text-checklist.png" alt="A checklist in a text editor" /></p>
### Daily Schedule or Plan
A daily schedule or plan is just that: a breakdown of where you need to be and what you should be doing at given times during the day. Many people use a calendar application for that, but for some a text file works as well (if not better).
You can break your schedule or plan down by time of day &mdash; for example, Morning, Afternoon, and Evening &mdash; or by hours or blocks of hours. The coaching client I worked with, for example, breaks his day down by hour and minute &mdash; for example, *9:00 to 9:15*.
Here's an example of a daily schedule:
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/plain_text-daily_schedule.png" alt="A daily schedule in a text editor" /></p>
### Journal
You can use a journal to record your most private thoughts, to note significant events that happened during the day, or to record interactions with customers and clients. Or all of the above.
I advise using a very simple format for a journal. Each journal entry should be an individual text file. I usually name that file with the day's date &mdash; for example, *02292016.txt*.
The file can contain a header with date and, maybe, a slug line or title. Then, just type below that. Your journal entries can be full sentences or paragraphs, or just a summary in the form of a bullet list.
Here's an example of a journal entry:
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/plain_text-journal.png" alt="An example of a journal entry" /></p>
## Using the Text Files
The easiest way to do that is to open them all in a text editor and keep the text editor open in the background while you work. Of course, this assumes that the text editor you're using supports multiple tabs. Windows Notepad, for example, just won't cut it.
As your day progresses, switch over to your text editor and check items off your lists. Yes, it's that simple. There's not a lot of overhead and no new software to learn. All you really need to do is build the habit of using text files. (And if you need help with that, [contact me](http://scottnesbitt.net/contact/) to discuss my coaching services.)
Using plain text to organize yourself takes a bit of work up front. But you can work ahead by creating templates of the text files that you use and by copying your folder structure across months.
Organizing in plain text isn't for everyone. However, it's a simple and easily-maintained way of keeping track of what you need to do and where you need to be. And you can do it with tools that you already have on your computer.
---
title: It's OK To Take a Break
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/legs-762565_640.jpg" alt="Someone relaxing with their feet up" /></p>
>Giving in for one night and saying _the hell with it, I'll start again tomorrow_, is fine, and you should never worry about doing it. The world won't end because you say the hell with it and get comfortable for one damn night. And if it does? Well, s**t, were you guarding the single button that was going to save the world? No, you weren't.
>
>&mdash; Warren Ellis
I know far too many people who feel, for lack of a better word, guilty if they're not working. They've become so tightly coupled to the productivity assembly line that they can't step away, even when their minds and bodies tell them to.
That's no way to work. That's no way to live.
That can come back to haunt you. It did with me.
Several years ago, I was working *a lot*. I'd started my own small consulting business, I was blogging, and I was doing a lot of freelance writing. Five, six days a week. Often all seven without a pause.
Then, one weekend, my body and my brain turned on me. I was physically weak. I was weighed down by fatigue. I was too tired to do anything except lay on the couch and watch BBC World News.
That weekend taught me a valuable lesson: **it's OK to take a break once in a while**. Now, when my body and mind tell me they can't do something, I don't push through the fatigue. I don't force myself to do something. I listen to what my mind and body say and step back.
I know that if I do try to push through, I'll only be working at 20% or 30% efficiency. I'll spend more time the next day re-doing what I did the previous day &mdash; the quality of my work suffers when my mind and body aren't in the proper state.
Don't feel guilty about taking a break. Don't deny yourself that break. Sometimes, you need to step away. It keeps your mind and body fresh. It allows you to relax and reflect. In the longer run, taking a break will improve your work.
---
title: Links Roundup - April 11, 2016
layout: post
---
* Steven Ovadia on how he [tracks everything with Remember the Milk](http://www.mylinuxrig.com/post/141494977277/tracking-everything-with-remember-the-milk)
* How to [keep productivity simple](http://business.tutsplus.com/tutorials/how-to-keep-productivity-simple--cms-20620)
* How one person [quit setting goals](https://www.safaribooksonline.com/blog/2014/07/24/quit-setting-goals/) and got more done
* Being overworked doesn't mean [you're being productive](https://medium.com/time-management/overworked-does-not-mean-productive-91dde56e1e88)
---
title: Letting Ideas Come to You
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/close-up-1224273_640.jpg" alt="A lightbulb" /></p>
(**Note:** This post, in a slightly different form, was originally published at [Words on a Page, Rewound](https://woaprewound.wordpress.com/2012/08/27/letting-ideas-come-to-you/) and appears here via a Creative Commons license.)
Ideas. We all have them. We all need them, for whatever we're doing. Whether it's writing or drawing or coding or creating or running a business, ideas are our lifeline.
Sometimes, though, ideas &mdash; whether good or bad &mdash; just won't come. That's not only frustrating, it's demoralizing.
That happened to me in May, 2012. Ahead of my move overseas, I needed to write and queue up for publishing a number of blog posts. Quite a large number. My goal was to have enough post written ahead of time for all my blog. Why? So I could focus on the final details of my move and to make sure that those posts were published from mid-August to early September when I wouldn't be able to write or publish anything.
A good plan. But there was one *small* snag.
I couldn't come up with any ideas.
I'm not just talking about good ideas. I'm talking about ideas, period. And to be honest, I started to get a bit worried.
Then, one afternoon in the middle of May, things changed. Here's what happened.
<!--more-->
All the pieces were there, but those pieces wouldn't come together or weren't as well formed as they needed to be. Plus, with the stresses involved in my preparations for my move and with the contract gig I was undertaking at the time, I wasn't as focused as I could or should have been.
The situation was kind of like writer's block. Or, in this case, you can label it *idea block*. No matter what you call it, it wasn't very pleasant. And it was only getting worse because I was missing my self-imposed deadlines.
Then things changed. Quite suddenly, too. I remember that day in May, 2012 when it all came together.
That day was quite an intense one. My mind and energy were focused on meeting a deadline for the contract gig I mentioned earlier. All my conscious effort was put into that deadline. A couple of hours after I was done, the mental log jam I'd been experiencing cleared. All those bits and pieces that were floating around in my mind came together.
Immediately, I grabbed a pen and a notebook and started writing down the ideas that were pouring out of my head. I must have jotted down at least 20. When I was done, I'd eliminated or consolidated a few of those ideas and wound up with a grand total of 14 blog post topics.
What happened? I thought about that for a bit, then I stumbled upon [this article](http://www.nature.com/news/why-great-ideas-come-when-you-aren-t-trying-1.10678).
The problem was that I was **trying too hard** to consciously come up with ideas. In a brainstorming situation, that can work. But because of the stresses I was under, something in my brain created a barrier or three. It was when my focus and energy was directed at something else that the barriers dropped.
The question is *How can I let ideas come to me?*
The best, and most obvious, piece of advice is to try not to force yourself to come up with ideas. That's easier said than done, even in the best conditions.
After what happened in May, 2012 I've experimented with creating artificial periods of intense focus. Not all of them had to do with writing. Some of them involved planning my move, in working or coming up with the tasks I needed to do around the house, and even focusing on other writing and business projects.
To do that, sit down with a pen and paper. Focus on the problem you want to solve or the task you want to perform. Think of every idea you can, and write each of those ideas down. Spend 30 to 60 minutes doing that, then take a step back.
Get away from your ideas for an hour or two. Or even a day. Then, go back and do it again. The second time around, you'll find the quality of your ideas is better and they flow a lot more smoothly from your brain.
I find that in most cases, shunting that effort to the front of my brain lets ideas and thoughts percolate in the back of my brain. And, in most cases, those ideas and thoughts come together.
Notice I wrote *in most cases*. It didn't always work. Sometimes, I was back to square one. Once or twice, I was even further back than that! On average, though, I managed to come up with something that I could work with so the extra effort was worth it.
It's not a perfect technique, but then again what is?
---
title: Constraints and Creativity
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/handcuffs-921290_640.jpg" alt="A pair of hands, handcuffed" /></p>
>A lot of people confuse amassing tools with progress.
>
>&mdash; [Tim Ferriss talking with Joel Stein](http://fourhourworkweek.com/2016/03/04/how-to-10x-your-results/)
I know, and know of, more than a few people who think that if they have the latest and greatest tools and apps they'd be more creative, more productive, more effective.
No, they wouldn't.
Tools and apps don't make you more effective. They don't make you more creative. They definitely don't make you more productive. They can help, but those tools and apps don't do the work. **You do**.
Take writer [George R.R. Martin](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_R._R._Martin), for example. You'd think he uses cutting edge writing applications like Word or Scrivener. Well, you're wrong. Martin uses [WordStar](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WordStar), an old DOS word processor. On top of that, he doesn't use social media and reportedly doesn't know how to use email.
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Think about that for a second. This best-selling author, who's most popular book series was turned into a successful TV series, uses what's considered antiquated software. He doesn't do much digital, either. And yet Martin's written millions of words that have been devoured by millions of readers.
The supposed constraints of WordStar haven't blunted Martin's creativity. You could make the argument that they've *enhanced* his creativity. For Martin, WordStar and DOS are familiar. They allow him to focus his attention and his creative energy. They just work for him.
There's a lesson there: constraints aren't a hindrance. They can spur you to become more creative.
Do you need something like [Todoist](https://todoist.com/) to track your tasks, or will [Simpletask](https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=nl.mpcjanssen.todotxtholo) or a text file do the trick? Do you need to write that blog post in a word processor, or will a text editor do the job just as well?
Embrace constraints. Don't worry about what a tool or app can't do. Focus on what it **can do**. Focus on what it can do to help you achieve your goal or complete a task.
Eliminating the frills lets you home in like a laser on what you need to do. Eliminating the frills lets you focus on your work, not worrying about those frills and what they might be able to do to you. Eliminating the frills lets you be more creative, be more effective, be more productive.
Obviously, this won't work for everything under the sun. But do take a long, hard look at what you do. Ask yourself whether you need a Swiss Army Knife or just a knife to do the job. The answer might just surprise you.
---
title: When (Good) Habits Become Shackles
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/chains-19176_640.jpg" alt="A pair of feet, with chains around the ankles" /></p>
We all have habits, both good and bad. Many of us work quite hard to break the bad ones. We work equally hard to form new, good habits.
Habits are a powerful tool As I tell my people, one of keys to mastering what they want to master is to develop new habits.
As powerful and useful as habits are, they have a negative side. Even good habits can turn into shackles when they become routine. And I mean _routine_ in a bad way.
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That sounds at odds with one of the ideas behind forming habits &mdash; you **want** them to become part of your routine. And that's true. What I mean by *routine*, though, is when you feel *need* to do something because you have to, not because you want to or enjoy doing it. When you're going through the motions rather than being attentive and mindful about what you're doing.
When that happens, the habit becomes a chore. You question all the time and work you put into forming it.
Take, for example, a friend of mine. He needed to make a few lifestyle changes to improve his health. So, he started an exercise routine. It's become a habit, but not in a good way. He exercises at the same time every day. He does the same routine, in the same order, for the same amount of time and number of repetitions each day. In recent weeks, he's become bored. He's lacking the motivation to continue. And while he put in a lot of effort to develop that exercise habit, he's on the verge of abandoning it.
That habit has become a pair of shackles. He's locked into his routine. But it doesn't have to be that way.
The key to breaking those shackles isn't to abandon the habit. It isn't to form a new, replacement habit. The key is to shake things up a bit. To shuffle things around. To add some variety.
Going back to my friend, I advised him to try switching things up. I told him to do squats and deadlifts and cleans with heavier weights on Mondays and Fridays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, do body weight exercises mixed in with time on an elliptical machine. On other days, try working with kettlebells and lighter weights.
This advice doesn't just apply to exercise. Say you want to drink water when you first get up in the morning. Water itself can be bland. Why not add a squeeze or lemon or lime some mornings? Small tweaks and adjustments can have as big an impact as an overhaul.
Think about the habit that's shackling you, then think about ways to mix things up, to switch things around. You don't have to do anything radical &mdash; [tweak your habit](http://scottnesbitt.info/2012/08/14/tweak_dont_hack/), don't hack it.
---
title: Deciding What You Want to Be When You Grow Up
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/tower-531042_640.jpg" alt="A spiral staircase" /></p>
Even though I'm almost 49 years old, I don't know what I want to be when I grow up. Well, that's not quite true. I **do** know what I want to be when I grow up. It's just that I haven't been able to make that a reality yet.
Think about what you wanted to do for a living when you were younger. In my case, that ran the gamut from being a helicopter pilot to a diver to an anthropologist to a fiction writer to a translator. None of those careers panned out, for a variety of reasons.
<!--more-->
I was passionate about those options. Some more than others, admittedly. But, as Cal Newport argues in his book *[So Good They Can't Ignore You](http://www.amazon.com/Good-They-Cant-Ignore-You/dp/1455509124/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1459925993&sr=8-1&keywords=so+good+they+can%27t+ignore+you)*, passion often isn't enough when pursuing a career. Instead, you need to temper your passion with ability and experience. You need to approach your career with the eye of the craftsman: you get good at something you enjoy. So good, as the title of Newport's book states, that people can't ignore you.
One of the reasons a few of the careers that I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago didn't pan out was because my ability didn't live up to the dream. Even though I worked at becoming better, I hit the ceiling of my abilities. A ceiling I couldn't break through.
That said, I did learn some valuable lessons and did pick up a few skills that I could apply to what I'm truly passionate about: *writing*.
To be honest, I got lucky. I've been passionate about writing since my teens. I managed to get fairly good at it, too. My problem was that for the longest time I wasn't sure what kind of writing I wanted to do. Even though I majored in print journalism in university, I discovered that the grind of daily journalism wasn't for me. Luckily, there are other forms of non-fiction writing I was able to pour my energies into.
Of course, it's easy to lose your passion for something even if you have considerable experience and ability. For just over 20 years, I was a technical writer. I was, and I say this with no ego, in the top 5% or 10% of my profession. I was passionate about technical writing. Until I wasn't. A variety of reasons for that, but my passion for that profession fizzled.
Take my friend Kyle. I met him when we were both in the technical writing trenches. He had another passion, but eventually put that aside. He found, though, that he loved investigative and analytical work. Kyle spent a couple of years taking a number of course and, about two years ago, changed careers. He now works in the crime lab of a large police department. It's a career he never dreamed of, but one he loves.
There's nothing wrong with having a dream. Dreams drive us forward. Sometimes, though, dreams aren't practical or they're beyond our reach or they're just not viable. Instead of trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up, perhaps you should grow up and find what you want to be. That could come to you from an unexpected direction.
---
title: Links Roundup - May 9, 2016
layout: post
---
* [10 clever uses for plain text files](http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2014/12/ten-clever-uses-for-plain-text-files-that-can-increase-your-productivity/) that can help boost your productivity
* Knowing [when to quit](http://blog.crew.co/knowing-when-to-quit/)
* In praise of [zoning out](http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2014/10/praise-of-zoning-out.html)
* Sage advice: [live first, post later](http://www.businessesgrow.com/2014/07/25/typing-lives-away/)
---
title: Thoughts About Using Tools
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/tool-1031988_640.jpg" alt="A bunch of tools being used to crack walnuts" /></p>
I'm fortunate that in my life I have a number of people who get me to think about things in a different or a new way. And they do that whether they mean to or not.
One of those people is [Shaun McCance](http://syllogist.net/). In 2015, Shaun posted this pair of tweets:
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/shaunm-tweet-1.png" alt="A tweet from Shaun McCance" /></p>
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/shaunm-tweet-2.png" alt="A second tweet from Shaun McCance" /></p>
I asked Shaun if he needed to do anything remotely advanced with a word processor or spreadsheet in the past. Turns out that he didn't. He said that he always had another way to solve that problems that a word processor or a spreadsheet solves for many people.
Despite what some so-called *gurus* and *experts* will lead you to believe, not everyone needs to be a so-called *power user* of every tool they use. Many of us never need to go beyond the basics. There's nothing wrong with that.
Like Shaun, until recently I never needed to do anything advanced with a spreadsheet. But in 2014, I learned a lot about analyzing and manipulating data using a spreadsheet as part of the data journalism course I took.
Even now, I don't consider myself to be an expert- or even an intermediate-level user of spreadsheets. I know enough to do what I need to do. Nothing more. And there's a lesson here.
That lesson? Use tools at the level that's right for *you*. Not at the level that other people use them or the level at which *they think* you should use them. Be selfish. Only consider of your needs, no matter how limited those are. Those needs are the only ones that matter.
But what if you need to do something more with a tool, something that goes beyond your level of ability? Well, there are people, books, and resources online you can consult to help you. I always suggest learning those skills or increasing your abilities with your tools **when you need to**. I don't see the use in learning more about a tool when it will be a long time (if ever) before you use it. By then, you might have forgotten the skill or it will have atrophied to the point where you'll have to relearn it anyway.
---
title: Some Useful Plain Text Resources
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/computer-339836_640.jpg" alt="Someone typing in a text editor" /></p>
As you may or may not know, one of the goals of this blog is to share techniques and tips for living and working in plain text. While I'm not the first, and hope I'm not the last, person to try to live his life in plain text, I want to demonstrate that it's not just techies and productivity nerds who can effectively work in plain text. I want to demonstrate that plain text is for *everyone*: the student, the writer, the office worker, the stay-at-home parent. Anyone who wants a simple but effective way to stay organized.
I'll be writing more about using plain text in this space in the coming weeks and months. But, as I mentioned earlier, I'm not the only person out there who has embraced plain text. Here are a few resources for living and working in plain text that I've dug up over the last little while. I hope you find them useful.
**[WorkingMemory.txt (The Most Important Productivity Tool You’ve Never Heard Of)](http://calnewport.com/blog/2015/10/27/deep-habits-workingmemory-txt-the-most-important-productivity-tool-youve-never-heard-of/)** &mdash; Cal Newport shares a great technique for capturing and scheduling all those little tasks you have to do, which lie outside of your main task list.
**[Ten Clever Uses for Plain Text Files That Can Increase Your Productivity](http://lifehacker.com/ten-clever-uses-for-plain-text-files-that-can-increase-1662774267)** &mdash; Some familiar, and not so familiar, uses of a text file that can help you become and stay productive.
**[A Plain Text Primer](http://bettermess.com/a-plain-text-primer/)** &mdash; A nice explanation of what plain text is and how it can help you.
**[5 Unexpected Benefits of Plain Text for the Writer](http://becomeawritertoday.com/plain-text/)** &mdash; Great reasons to use plain text, even if you're not a writer.
**[Plaintext Productivity](http://plaintext-productivity.net/)** &mdash; A site devoted solely to become organized using plain text. While the site focuses on Windows and Getting Things Done (GTD), you can easily adapt the advice you find there to other operating systems. And you don't need to be a GTD adherent to benefit from that advice.
**[Why Use a Plain-Text File for Your Todos?](http://widefido.com/blog/why-use-a-plain-text-file-for-your-todos/)** &mdash; It's a bit of a marketing spiel for an application called TodoPaper, but there's some good information in this post.
**[Removing the Word shackles: getting started with plain text](http://www.elezea.com/2013/11/plain-text-getting-started/)** &mdash; A detailed look at writing in plain text, mainly using [Markdown](https://scottnesbitt.net/books/Learning_Markdown/). It's a bit Mac/iOS centric, but you can easily adapt the advice in this post to other desktop and mobile operating systems.
**[store everything in text files](http://mnmlist.com/a-case-for-storing-all-your-info-in-text-files/)** &mdash; Leo Babauta on the simplicity, utility, and beauty of using plain text files to store information.
**[Sustainable Authorship in Plain Text using Pandoc and Markdown](http://programminghistorian.org/lessons/sustainable-authorship-in-plain-text-using-pandoc-and-markdown)** &mdash; A tutorial that explains the basics of Markdown and Pandoc (a tool for converting between markup languages), and how to effectively use them together.
---
title: Managing Your Tasks with TickTick
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/work-management-907669_640.jpg" alt="A person with way too much to do" /></p>
Thanks to the evil influence of one [Steven Ovadia](http://www.mylinuxrig.com/post/141494977277/tracking-everything-with-remember-the-milk), I'm spending 2016 using [Remember the Milk](http://www.rememberthemilk.com) as my task manager.
That doesn't mean, however, that I'm not looking at other task management tools. I am, but not actively. One task manager that came across my gaze recently was [TickTick](https://www.ticktick.com/). I was immediately intrigued by it. Let's find out why.
<!--more-->
## Getting Started
First, you'll have to [sign up for an account](https://ticktick.com/signup). But you probably already figured that out by yourself ... Accounts are free, but there are also paid options. More about that in a little while.
When you log in, you'll notice TickTick's simple, spartan layout.
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/ticktick-main.png" alt="TickTick's main window" /></p>
The interface reminds me of Remember the Milk, but it's a lot more stripped down. It's pretty much a blank canvas that you can quickly and easily add your tasks to.
But I wouldn't start by doing that. Instead, I suggest creating **Lists**. Lists are categories of tasks in single areas of your working or personal life. I advise people to use categories to help better maintain and focus their overall task lists.
In my case, I have five lists:
* Personal
* Coaching
* Blogging
* Writing
* Newsletter
Click **Create New List** to do the deed. Give the list a name and, optionally, a colour. The colours appear in TickTick's main tasks list, giving you at-a-glance recognition of what list a task belongs to. Once you're done, click **Save**.
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/ticktick-new-list.png" alt="Creating a list" /></p>
## Adding Tasks
To do that, click the in **Add Task** box in the centre of the TickTick window and type a description of the task.
<!-- <p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/ticktick-new-task.png" alt="Creating a task" /></p> -->
You can optionally use the three icons on the right of the **Add Task** field to add:
* A due date and time
* A reminder
* A priority (one of: None, Low, Medium, or High)
* The task to a list
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/ticktick-set-due.png" alt="Setting a task's due date and time" /></p>
When you're done, press Enter. Lather, rinse, and repeat for the tasks you want to add for a day or the week.
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/ticktick-task-list.png" alt="A set of task in TickTick" /></p>
### Adding Subtasks
Sometimes, what you're working on consists of several smaller jobs. Instead of creating a new task for each of those smaller jobs, TickTick lets you add those jobs under your task.
To do that, click a task. Information about the task displays in the right side of the TickTick window. In that window, click the icon beside the name of the task and then click the second icon that appears. The first item in your list of subtasks displays
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/ticktick-new-subtask.png" alt="Creating a new subtask in TickTick" /></p>
Type information about each subtask and press Enter to add a new one to the list.
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/ticktick-subtasks.png" alt="A set of subtasks in TickTick" /></p>
## Organizing Your Task
As I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, you can organize your tasks using colour-coded lists. I find that's the best way to do the deed. But TickTick also gives you a helping hand.
You'll notice that it breaks your tasks into several buckets:
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/ticktick-buckets.png" alt="Task buckets in TickTick" /></p>
Those buckets are:
* __All__
* __Today__
* __Next 7 Days__
* __Inbox__
In the main task area, there's an additional bucket named **Tomorrow**.
**Inbox** is actually the default task list in TickTick. That's where uncategorized tasks go.
The buckets can be useful &mdash; they give you an idea of how many tasks you have and also what's coming up. But I find that sometimes they just clutter up the window. Your mileage (or whatever unit of distance you use) may vary.
## Sharing Your Tasks
That's something I don't do much, if only because most of my projects are solo. When I do collaborate or work on a client project, I usually use the tools my collaborators or clients are using. In TickTick, you can share a List (though you can't share individual tasks).
To do that, in the left pane click the name of the list that you want to share. Click the __...__ icon and then select **Share**.
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/ticktick-share.png" alt="Task buckets in TickTick" /></p>
Enter the email address of the person you want to share the list with and then press Enter to send that person an email with a link to view the list.
If you need to include additional information about a task, you can:
* Click the __Comment__ icon and add a 140-character comment
* Click the __...__ icon and then click __Upload__ to attach a document or image to the task
Of course, these features are useful if you're working alone, too. You can add a comment about who to contact or where to find information, and attach research to a task.
## A Few Other Features
As I keep reminding people, I don't need much in a task list. To be honest, TickTick has more features than I need. Some of them are interesting, though.
Click **Settings** to:
* Add events to TickTick from an external calendar (like Google Calendar)
* Incorporate TickTick into another calendar application
* Add tasks via email
* Back up your tasks
* Import tasks from apps like Wunderlist, Astrid, or Toodledo
* Enable the ability to add tags to your tasks
There are also a number of apps available for TickTick &mdash; including Android and iOS apps, apps for the Mac and for Chrome, a Firefox extension, and apps for Android Wear and the Apple Watch. I only tried the Chrome app (I'm trying to spend as much time away from my tablet and phone as possible), and it worked well.
Earlier in this post, I mentioned paid accounts. Those will set you back $1.99 (USD) a month (or $19.99 a year). A paid account offers a number of additional features, which you can [learn more about here](https://ticktick.com/about/upgrade).
## Final Thoughts
TickTick is very solid alternative to Remember the Milk (or any other task management tool). It's easy to use and if I'd discovered it earlier in the year, I'd be spending this year using TickTick as my task manager.
---
title: The Goal Behind Using Technology
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/ipad-605439_640.jpg" alt="Some personal electronics" /></p>
I think about that goal quite a bit, and I always come to the same conclusion: the goal of technology is to free up our time. Time to do important work, or time we use to relax and escape work.
Far too often, though, technology becomes an end in itself, not a means to an end. Often, using technology becomes a perverse arms race. We try to find newest, shiniest technology because we've heard it will transform our workflow or mystically boost our productivity.
Productivity isn't about making technology the centre of your efforts, the centre of your life (working or otherwise).
Technology is a tool. Nothing more, nothing less. It is, to a degree, an extension of yourself. You use technology to help make your processes, your workflows more efficient. You use the technology to help do your work.
Technology isn't doing the work for you. You're the prime mover. You're the linchpin.
Think about this: you'd still be doing the work if the technology wasn't there.
Technology is a convenience. Remember to treat it that way.
---
title: How to Add Context to a Plain Text Task List
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/hand-859518_640.jpg" alt="A to-do list stuck to a mobile phone" /></p>
I talk a lot about plain text. Why? Because I believe that plain text is the simplest, most portable way to store and exchange information. That's especially true for your task list.
As much as possible, I try to [organize myself with plain text](http://scottnesbitt.info/2016/03/30/text/). It generally works. But plain text isn't perfect. When using plain text for my task lists, *context* can be a problem. By context, I mean things like due dates, what project a task is related to, who I'm sharing the task with, and the like.
There are easy ways to do add context to your plain text task lists, though. I'd like to share some of them with you.
<!--more-->
## Giving Credit
And it's due. Most of the ideas I'm going to share with you in this post are adapted from Getting Things Done (GTD for short), a popular productivity system.
Yes, I know that I've stated countless times that I'm no fan of GTD. And I'm not. That doesn't mean, though, that it doesn't have a few useful aspects. GTD's ideas around concepts are something I do find useful.
With that out of the way, let's continue.
## Tagging Your Tasks
If you've used social media, like Twitter, you're probably already familiar with tags. Tags are keywords that help you quickly search for and filter information. A tag consists of a hash sign (\#) followed by a keyword &mdash; for example, \#productivity.
I mainly use tags to indicate which project a task belongs to or the type of task it is. For example, if I'm the task calls for me to write a blog post, I'll tag it with *\#blogging*. If I'm working on a client project, I can tag it with the name of the client &mdash; for example, *\#coachingAmanda*.
You can also use tags to indicate who you're collaborating with. About a year ago, I was working on a large writing project with another freelancer. We shared a plain text task list, and use the tags *\#forScott* and *\#forPaul* to indicate who should tackle each task on the list.
Another way to use a tag is to indicate the priority or importance of a task. I like to use a scale between 1 and 4 &mdash; 1 being the most important and 4 being the least important. So, I'd tag a high-priority task with *\#1*. I know people who use letters (A for the highest priority and D for the lowest) instead of numbers.
## Using <em>@</em>
The @ symbol is quite flexible. You can add it to the end of a task to indicate when a task must be started or finished, or who should be tackling it.
Indicate a date like this: *@YYYY/MM/DD* &mdash; for example, *@2016/06/20*. However, that's a bit ambiguous. Does that mean you need to start the task on that date, or finish it by that date? You might know that, but then again ...
A better way use the @ symbol to indicate dates is to tack either *start:* or *due:* after the symbol:
* _@start:2016/06/20_ indicates that you need to start the task on that date
* _@due:2016/06/20_ indicates that you need to finish the task by that date
What about using the @ symbol to indicate who a task is assigned to? You've probably already guessed this by now: add the person's name after the @ symbol &mdash; for example, *@Scott*.
## The Caret Is Your Friend
I only use the caret (^) for dates. Specifically, the dates I need to start tasks.
How do you use it? Add *^YYYY/MM/DD* to the end of a task &mdash; for example, *^2016/06/20*.
The caret isn't as flexible as an @ symbol or a hash tag. It does its job, though.
## Can You Only Use Those Symbols?
Of course not. Use whatever keyboard symbols you want to add context to your task lists. Just make sure that you remember what context each symbol adds to your tasks.
Not matter what you use, it's easy to add context to a plain text task list. You just need to use that context regularly and be consistent with it.
---
title: Don't Default to the Complex Solution
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/electrical-1031989_640.jpg" alt="A complex tangle of wires" /></p>
Problems are like people: no two are the same. And you don't deal with everyone in the same way.
But many people, when faced with a problem, default to the complex solution. The solution that requires a lot of steps, a lot of planning, a lot of overhead.
There are problems that require a more complex and involved solution. That said, not every problem does. Often, the problem you're facing only needs a simple and straightforward approach to wrap it up.
What do I mean by that? Let me explain with two stories.
<!--more-->
## The Computer and My Parents
Take, for example, my parents. They're not the most technologically literate pair around. My mother has an annoying habit of saving her emails to her hard drive (then complaining she can't find them!). My father ... well, let's not go there.
Over the last couple of years, they've managed wipe out a pair of computers and a Kindle Fire tablet. The computers were crippled by malware and viruses, and the fact that my father would routinely cut the power to the computers while they were shutting down (and, in some cases, updating).
Using an updating firewalls and anti virus software is a bit beyond my parents. And, I'm convinced that a desktop computer is more than they need. I've suggested they get a Chromebook or a [Chromebase](), which does what they need without all the other frills. No one's taken me up on that suggestion yet, but I'm still hoping.
## The Tale of a Website
A while back, my wife was working with a small community group involved in organic permaculture. The group wanted to create a website that would help them share their ideas with others. My wife asked me for advice on how to create that site. Off the top of my head, I suggested using WordPress or [Jekyll](http://www.jekyllrb.com) (a tool for creating and maintaining static websites).
My wife reminded me that the people who would be maintaining the site aren't technically savvy. They know how to use computers and have some basic knowledge of HTML. Their needs were simple, and the site wouldn't be updated all that frequently. That site would need to be easy to maintain even by people who weren't familiar with the guts of it.
So my wife and I created the skeleton of the website using an HTML template we created. The template is full of comments, explaning what each section of the page does or what should go there.
I'm sure you can come up with your own examples like that, whether related to technology or not.
The key is not to default to the complex solution. Consider the simple approach. Consider a solution that's quick to implement, but which will also last. If that doesn't work, then consider something more complex. In many cases, though, the simple approach will be more than enough.
---
title: A Quick Look at Four Task Managers for the Pebble Time
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/smart-watch-889639_640.jpg" alt="A smartwatch, though not a Pebble" /></p>
As you might recall, I [started using a Pebble Time smartwatch](http://scottnesbitt.info/2016/01/13/smartwatch/) in late 2015. Since then, I've been trying to incorporate that watch into my work and my life.
Doing that meant trying out a number of watch apps. I dumped most of them, mainly because they either added unneeded overhead to my workflow or I just wasn't using them.
One app that I've come to if not rely on then use quite often is a task manager. Sometimes, I just find it simpler to tap a few buttons on my watch to check my task list than to check it on my phone or computer.
If you use a Pebble smartwatch, you have several good options to choose from. Here's a look at four task management apps for the Pebble . Each of them works with a popular online task management tool, giving you continuity across your devices.
<!--more-->
## Task Checker
[Task Checker](https://apps.getpebble.com/en_US/application/55085c157d3b94cb14000029?section=watchapps) is the app I currently use. It works with [Remember the Milk](http://scottnesbitt.info/2016/01/06/remember/), and lets you view your tasks and either mark them as finished or postpone them.
That doesn't seem like a lot, but for me that's enough. When I build my task list, I do it from within Remember the Milk because it gives me a lot more flexibility &mdash; I can tag my tasks, add a due date, add notes, and more to them. Task Checker just helps me keep on top of my tasks.
## Google Tasks for Pebble
I know a number of people who use [Google Tasks](http://scottnesbitt.info/2014/06/04/google-tasks/) because it's simple and it's integrated into Gmail and Google Calendar. [Google Tasks for Pebble](https://apps.getpebble.com/en_US/application/52b1fc07cd41830cc200001e?section=watchapps) puts that simplicity on your wrist.
Like Task Checker, Google Tasks for Pebble is limited. You can see your tasks and mark them as done. You can also use the app to view notes associated with an app.
(If you're interested in learning how to effectively use Google Tasks, read [this post](http://scottnesbitt.info/2014/06/04/google-tasks/).)
## Todoist Mini
While I've never fully understood the appeal of [Todoist](https://todoist.com/), I know more than a couple of people who swear by it. For folks like that, [Todoist Mini](https://apps.getpebble.com/en_US/application/557f9210bb3773c25800008e?section=watchapps) is worth a look.
Todoist Mini has a few more features than the previous two task managers I discussed. It lets you view and complete tasks. On the Pebble Time, you can add tasks using the voice interface. Unlike many other task managers for the Pebble that I've tried, if the description of a task is long the text scrolls.
## WunderPebble
[Wunderlist](https://www.wunderlist.com/) is another one of those tools I've never understood the appeal of. I guess it's too much of a task list for me. But that's not to say it's a bad tool. It isn't. It's very good.
[WunderPebble](https://apps.getpebble.com/en_US/application/54aabf29ef47e1e246000072?section=watchapps) gives you another way to use Wunderlist. The app's developer says *All your lists and tasks organized exactly like Wunderlist. Nothing new to learn.* You can see your tasks and any notes associated with them, and mark the tasks as complete. WunderPebble also supports Wunderlist Folders, which let you group similar task lists.
## A Couple of Others Worth Mentioning
There are a number of other task managers for Pebble smartwatches. Many of them work with third-party services. But what if you only need a task list that lives on your watch? Take a look at these two:
[TaskFlow](https://apps.getpebble.com/en_US/application/555c18e585693fa34c000066?section=watchapps) is an extremely minimal task manager. You create your tasks on TaskFlow's configuration page in the Pebble app on your phone. You can review your tasks, or mark them as completed, on your watch.
[ToDoIt](https://apps.getpebble.com/en_US/application/5674333b1caa14bc3500003e?section=watchapps) makes creating tasks lists simple: you can use your voice instead of typing on your phone.
---
title: Links Roundup - June 13, 2016
layout: post
---
* [Do one thing](http://radar.oreilly.com/2015/10/do-one-thing.html) (on _tools that do one thing, and do it well_)
* Surprise, surprise: ['busy' people aren't that productive](http://qz.com/544148/busy-people-are-actually-not-that-productive/)
* The lazy person's guide to [peak productivity](http://thelegacyproject.co.za/the-lazy-persons-guide-to-peak-productivity/)
* [4 tips](http://www.freelancewritinggigs.com/2015/05/4-best-tips-to-kill-procrastination/) to help you kill procrastination
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title: A Hack Too Far?
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/multi-tool-608013_640.jpg" alt="A multitool" /></p>
In early 2016, British teen Jordan Cox needed to get home to Sheffield from Essex. The problem was the return train ticket cost &pound;47 (about $68 USD). That's quite a bit of money, especially for an 18 year old.
So Cox, who blogs about saving money, found a cheaper way home: [via a flight to Berlin, Germany](http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/638630/Coupon-kid-prove-it-is-cheaper-to-travel-via-BERLIN-than-take-train-journey-in-UK). That saved him a whopping &pound;7.72 (around $11 USD).
Take a moment to let that sink in. He took the better part of a day to get home, all to save &pound;7.72.
To his credit, Cox pointed out:
>OK, this isn't for everyone as it can take a whole day to get to your final destination ... Even by my usual standards, I’ll admit this is a rather extreme way of saving money.
Cox's travel hack illustrates something I've noticed about many hacks in many areas. They revel in their own cleverness rather than being useful. Sometimes, the hack in question is a hack too far.
Admittedly, Cox's hack is an extreme example. But there are many, many hacks out there that, while fun, don't really make much difference to your life or work. You can learn the so-called *optimal* ways to fold napkins or store your shoes or quickly find the exit in a train station, but chances are the quality of your life and work won't increase because of those hacks.
That, to me, is the danger of being obsessed with hacking. You can wind up [spending more time organizing](http://scottnesbitt.info/2014/01/10/too_busy/) than being productive.
When evaluating a hack of **any** kind, probe below the surface. Look beyond the *Wow!* or *This is neat* factor and consider whether or not the hack will really help you. Do that by asking these questions:
1. Will it save you time (if that's even possible)?
2. Are the savings of time or money or both worth the effort?
3. Will this actually improve my workflow or process?
Unless the answer to all of those questions is *yes*, shunt that hack to the dustbin.
Don't let the seeming cleverness of a hack or a solution seduce you. Unless it is practical, it won't be of any use to you. It won't be worth your time or your mental or physical effort.
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title: Strategies for Naming Your Text Files
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/name-tag-390814_640.jpg" alt="A military dog tag" /></p>
What's in a name? When it comes to the files on your computer, that name could contain a little. Or that name could contain a lot.
It's easy enough to name a text file **Stuff to Do.txt**. But that's not a very helpful name, especially if you're using a number of text files to organize yourself and your work.
If you're organizing yourself and working with text files, you need to make the names of those files descriptive. Here are a few strategies that you can use to name your text files.
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## A Few Basics
It's been a while since we've been constrained by the [8.3 file name](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/8.3_filename), where we had just eight characters to describe the file and three for its extension. Isn't the future wonderful?
When naming your text files, don't be afraid of using a longer and more descriptive name for them. Make sure, though, that the names aren't too long. Make sure that someone (that includes *you*) can figure out what the file contains just by glancing at its name. For example, **Draft of second term essay.txt** doesn't tell you a whole heck of a lot about the contents of the file. You don't know the course the essay is for or the subject. A better file name might be **Econ 201 - Laffer Curve Critique essay.txt**.
Should you spaces or hyphens or underscores in the name of a file? I've been known to use all three. However, I mainly use underscores instead of spaces, and use dashes to separate dates from names. More on this in a moment.
Think about the file's extensions (the letters that come to the right of the period in a file name). too. I use these extensions for my text files:
* _.txt_ or _.text_ for plain text
* _.md_ or _.markdown_ for files formatted with Markdown
## Think About the Purpose of the File
You can use text files for [any number of purposes](http://scottnesbitt.info/2016/03/30/text/). If you do use text files in several ways, you can include the purpose of the file in its name.
What do I mean by *purpose*? Let's say you're using a text file as a daily task list. You can add *tasks* to the beginning of the file's name &mdash; for example, **tasks-2016-06-29.txt**.
If one of the documents is part of a larger set of documents associated with a project, include the project's name (or acronym) in the file name. When I write [an ebook](http://scottnesbitt.net/ebooks/), for example, I can use a file name like **Japan_Essays-ch1.md**.
You can also include the type of document in file name. **ProjectA-OUTLINE.txt** is the outline for something called *Project A*.
## Date the File When Necessary
This really only applies to text files that you use as tasks lists, journal entries, and checklists. Adding a date to a text file is useful if you create daily or weekly lists or entries.
With a daily task list, you can name the file **tasks-2016-06-20.txt** or **2016-06-20_tasks.txt**. The latter makes it easier to find a specific file when looking for it in your computer's file manager
## Think About the Stage in Your Workflow
It's not uncommon to use several files for different phases of a project, no matter how large or small that project is. When I'm writing a longer piece or work, my workflow has these phases:
* _planning_
* _draft_
* _revision_
* _edited_
* _final_
The file **essay_collection_intro-DRAFT.md** is the first draft of the introduction to an essay collection. And the extension indicates that the file is formatted with Markdown.
Notice that phase of the workflow is all capitals. I do that so the phase stands out when I'm looking for a particular file. It saves me time when trying to visually sort through all the files associated with a project.
Effectively naming your text files, or any files, takes a bit of planning and discipline. Once you get into the habit of doing that, keeping track of all of your text files becomes easier and more efficient.
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title: Create a Someday/Definitely List
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/hand-859521_640.jpg" alt="A list on a Post-It note, stuck to someone's hand" /></p>
If you're familiar with Getting Things Done (GTD, for short &mdash: a popular method of personal productivity), then you've probably heard of the *[Someday Maybe list](http://gettingthingsdone.com/2010/10/what-goes-on-a-someday-maybe-list/)*. That list contains all the things that you can't get to now but want to in the future. Things like learning how to tie climbing knots, writing a novel, cooking a seven-course dinner, reading that book, picking up the basics of JavaScript. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.
For many people, though, the Someday Maybe list becomes what someone on Twitter called a *Someday/Never list*. The list becomes a repository of tasks you never get to. It becomes a repository of broken dreams that you either swear you will get to, or lament *If I only had the time ...*
It's a list that grows and taunts you.
I don't see the point of the Someday Maybe list. That mythical someday almost never comes. Don't bother with it.
Instead, make a *Someday/Definitely list*.
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## A Someday/Definitely List?
The Someday/Definitely list turns the idea of the Someday Maybe list on its head. The list contains tasks that you can't get to now, but which you will. And soon. *Very soon*.
With a Someday/Definitely list, you're committing to actually finding the time to tackle those tasks. You're making yourself accountable to yourself to take action.
## Creating the List
It doesn't matter what tool you use to create the list. You can use a text file, a tool like Evernote or Simplenote or Google Keep, a word processor document, or a spreadsheet. Just create the list.
Here's what my Someday/Definitely list looks like in WorkFlowy:
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/someday-definitely-workflowy.png" alt="My Someday/Definitely list in WorkFlowy" /></p>
You'll notice that this post in on that list ...
Don't put too many items on the list. Mine has six items on it, and that's about the maximum. If that tasks that you want to tackle require quite a bit of effort and commitment, keep the list down to two or three items at the most.
Having a list is all well and good, but what makes it *Definitely* and not *Maybe*?
## Making the Time
I hope that the items on your Someday/Definitely list are important to you. And if they're important, you should schedule time to tackle them. This is one way in which the Someday/Definitely list differs from the Someday Maybe list.
Look at your schedule. Take a close look at your life. Figure out where you can squeeze in the time to carry out the tasks on the list. Set aside time, no matter how little, to do the work.
Then, add that time to your calendar or task list or whatever you use to keep track what you do. That time, even if it's only 15 minutes, should be sacrosanct. Nothing should come between you and the item on your Someday/Definitely list during that time.
With this post, for example, I knew I had a couple of hours free one Saturday afternoon. So I blocked out some of that time to write the first draft of this post in a paper notebook. And here we are.
## Do a Regular Review
This is the other way in which the Someday/Definitely list differs from its GTD counterpart. You're not just dumping tasks into the list and hoping that one day in the not-so-distant future.
You need to look at the list every six to eight weeks. If there are items on the list that you haven't been able to get around to in that time, chances are you're not going to get around to them.
So what do you do? You delete them. Be ruthless. Don't let sentiment or the vain hope that you will be able to tackle those tasks get in your way. Delete them. Forget them. Move on. Focus on what you know you *will* be able to get around to doing soon.
Creating a Someday/Definitely list is a bit of a shift. And it requires work, it requires planning. But if you have tasks that you really, truly want to tackle then this list is the perfect place for them. It will spur you on to actually getting those things done.
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title: On Not Pushing Your Tools
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/wrench-82893_640.jpg" alt="Wrenches and a socket driver" /></p>
In the early 1990s, I was heavily into desktop publishing (DTP). As I was learning that craft, I couldn't afford heavy-duty DTP software like FrameMaker or Ventura Publisher or QuarkXpress. But I did have a copy of WordPerfect 5.1 (yes, the version that ran on DOS). And I stumbled across a book titled *Desktop Publishing with WordPerfect 5.1*.
Using the two, I managed to learn how to publish long, well-formatted documents using a tool that wasn't really designed for that task. It was a cumbersome process, but it was possible.
In learning to desktop publish with WordPerfect 5.1, I learned a valuable lesson: unless you have no other choice, it's not worth the time or effort to push your tools beyond their intended uses.
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It's not uncommon to come across blog posts and hacks that tell you how to wrestle an application into doing something it wasn't designed to do.
Take Evernote, for example. It's a great tool for collecting and organizing information. But it's not a word process, it's not a blog post editor, it's not a task or checklist manager, it's not a flashcard app, and it's not a presentation tool. Yet many people who use Evernote use it for all of that. And a whole lot more.
As good as Evernote is at collecting and organizing information, it's not as good as the dedicated application people try to use it to replace.
I can understand why people try to push their tools beyond their uses, beyond their limits: they might not want to clutter their hard drives up with specialized applications. Remember what I did with WordPerfect those 20+ years ago?
Sometimes, though, you need to bite the bullet. You need to recognize the limits of the tool that you're using and, when necessary, turn to something else.
Remember that the [goal behind using tools](http://scottnesbitt.info/2016/05/25/tech/) is to make us more productive. To free up our time. I don't think that trying to push your tools beyond their limits is the most productive use of your time and energy.
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title: The Importance of Structure in Getting and Staying Organized
layout: post
---
<p align="center"><img src="{{ site.baseurl }}/img/desk-602978_640.jpg" alt="A desk with a mobile phone, notebook, and laptop on it" /></p>
It was only a few years ago that I was struggling. *Really* struggling. I had a lot to do: running a small business with my then business partner, writing posts for three blogs, doing consulting work, along with freelance writing. All the while, juggling family and home renovations and trying to do some courses.
To put it bluntly, I was lost and overwhelmed. I didn't know how to effectively organize myself or schedule my time or manage my tasks.
These days, when I talk to some people, they tell similar stories. Like me, in my struggling days, there's usually something lacking in their routines. That something?
**Structure**.
It's easy to cram a bunch of tasks into a task list. It's easy to slap a bunch of deadlines into a calendar. It's easy to create a schedule. But doing that can be haphazard and does nothing to quell those feelings of being overwhelmed.
Instead, you need to be systematic in your approach to doing work and being organized. A key part of that is adding structure to your routine.