Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Thinking Out Loud On Paper

Last night I realized that some people "think out loud" that is to really figure out an idea or concept they have to say it out loud to figure out how things all fit together.

I'm not one of these people. For me "thinking out loud" is putting something down on paper. Or typing it up. Either way seems to work. I'll do this at work all the time - when trying to explain a particularly complicated concept to a coworker, I'll reach for a dry erase marker and whiteboard nearly every time.

Drawing something out or writing it down makes it apparent how all the pieces fit together.

I need to get back to journaling & writing. I'll post online as I come up with stuff worth sharing. I'm not expecting to have a set schedule for posting, but we'll see where this goes.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Your Planner is With You - Iterating Organization

The Big Blue Brick

Back when I had just graduated college, I realized I was more or less hopelessly disorganized. I found this out when I compared my organization (none) to a friend who had EVERYTHING in a Franklin planner. I thought I was extremely busy, so I bought the "Monarch" size which is 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper size and I made sure I got a big enough one that I had room to write a page a day. This was great at conferences and meetings because I had huge amounts of room to write.

Unfortunately at some conferences, the right page was usually laying on the lap of the person next to me. I'm glad none of them punched me for having my planner across their lap. As you may guess, I often did not carry my planner. My friend reminded me that "Your planner is with you" or it's not really of any use to you.

I'm not sure ho much this thing weighed, but it felt like carrying a square paper bowling ball around with a blue cover.

Downsizing, slightly

I soon realized my friend had a "Classic" sized planner and seemed quite comfortable carrying it. I decided to switch to the same size. I suddenly felt a burden lifted from my shoulders. Classic size is like Monarch cut in half which was fantastic. It was something I can carry without feeling like my arm was going to be yanked off by my planner.

Enter Circa

I stuck with the Classic size a while, until I read something on the site Diyplanner.com that changed the world for me. There was a review of the Levenger Circa system, which essentially has plastic discs that hang on to the paper exactly the same distance apart so you can mix and match and swap out any paper into any bigger notebook - everything from business cards all the way up to full notebook page sizes.

Of course, I forgot where I came from and tried the biggest size first thinking at some point I could print out anything I want to carry with me and stick it in there. Once again, I hit the big paper brick problem and immediate swapped down a size to their version of the Classic planner.


Earlier this year (2012) I saw that I only carried my planner to work and back. While I'm out and about doing anything that is not work, I typically don't carry my planner with me. While thinking about that, I noticed Levenger has the "Compact" size calendars on sale for less than $5. The Compact size is slightly taller and not as wide as a 4x6 inch index cards. So I *HAD* to buy one. I used it for a couple weeks, enough to realize that I really like having a calendar that fits nicely in my back pocket. The problem is with the discs and one year's worth of weekly calendar pages, it is way too thick to fit comfortably in my back pocket.

So I went to Staples and grabbed a Day Minder 2012 calendar. It's about 1/2 the thickness of the Compact Levenger Circa calendar, not plastic rings. I tried putting it in my back pocket while driving around and pretty much didn't feel it at all. The only downside to this set up is I can't put in extra pages in my new calendar like I can in the Circa notebooks. However, I have noticed that I typically only have a line or two of writing in each day's calendar and then maybe two to three pages a month of notes.

My work stuff is nearly all electronic and at home, I'm generally blogging, messing with things on the computer, or playing with my kids. So it's nearly all electronic or things I don't really need to do much writing for.

So where does this leave me?

So here's my current set up:

I've got the aforementioned Day Minder 2012 calendar and Fisher Space pen I keep in my pocket. I also have a Levenger Smartphone Wallet in which I keep my iPod Touch. This wallet also has a place for index cards. I keep one index card in the front pocket of the Smartphone Wallet, three extra cards in the pouch, and then 5 or 10 index card Circa PDA notebook. Also in the wallet is a Lamy Agenda mechanical pencil. The plan is anything that needs to go on the calendar goes there, notes will go on the index cards, and any notes that need to be permanent will be entered into my computer.

I'm currently using Notebooks for iPhone and iPad to track all my notes and TaskPaper for my todo list. Notebooks really does allow me to keep track of everything but my todo list in the filesystem and then syncs to my iPod Touch and iPad via DropBox. The only current downside to this app is the todo list is implemented via .plist files which means you can only view or update them via the app.

TaskPaper keeps the todo list in plain text so would be available via anywhere you have it synced via DropBox.

Today I found out Notebooks is coming out with a Mac and Windows desktop version which means I would be able to use it to organize pretty much everything.

Friday, February 24, 2012

3 Tiny Habits Follow-up

I ended up participating in the actual 3 Tiny Habits program instead of trying to do it myself. The results were actually quite surprising!

The three habits I originally picked:

  • 1. After I get dressed, I will look at my todo list & calendar.

  • 2. After I put my daughter to bed, I will brush my teeth.

  • 3. After I log into my Mac, I will build whatever Xcode project is currently open by hitting Command-B.

  • Habit #2 turned out to be the easiest by far. I am already in the habit of brushing my teeth right before I go to bed. This tweak was to just do it right after I tuck my daughter in, which tends to be when the night snacking begins if I have nothing better to do. There's not much besides water that tastes good after you brush your teeth. Besides, if I had anything else I'd have to brush my teeth again. And that's just no good.

    What surprised me is how much I forget to do habit #3 at first. I'd login to my computer just wanting to check something quick - the weather, my email, etc and realize that shoot - I forgot to do my habit. The best solution I found was to make sure Xcode was up & running with an open project when I left the computer.

    You'll notice I left habit #1 for last... This is because what I found with that was most interesting. My morning routine goes like this - get up, use the restroom, weigh myself, eat breakfast & do my devotions, get dressed, head off to work. What I found was that some days the kids get up between me starting to eat breakfast and getting dressed. When that happens, all bets on me doing anything I didn't absolutely need to do to get ready for work are off.

    My fix was simple - I put my planner & iPod Touch on the book shelf I pass going from the bedroom to the kitchen & changed the habit from checking my todo list & calendar after I get dressed to after I weigh myself.

    In summary: two big things I learned from tiny habits:

  • 1. For a habit to be automatic, you need to tie it to something you already do.

  • 2. To keep doing it, you need to set up as much as possible to reduce resistance to the habit. For example, I'm not going to even look at my development project in Xcode before I check my email unless Xcode is already up and running. I'm not going to run downstairs to check my todo list before breakfast, but I will pick up my planner on the way to the kitchen if it happens to be handy.

  • I also get the feeling that my best bet for accomplishing what I really want to accomplish - the things that take more than 30 seconds to do - is do them before anyone else in my family gets up or at night once everyone else has settled down to some point. While family is up & about - well that should be family time. After all, they are the most important people in my life! I need to fit the things I want to accomplish in around them, not the other way around.

    It will be a work in progress for quite a while - I expect for my whole life.

    Sunday, February 12, 2012

    Three Tiny Habits Different Than Three Small Habits

    I got a surprise comment on my previous post on the 3 Tiny Habits program. The creator of the program actually commented on the post.

    It seems I missed two things by trying to do the 3 Tiny Habits based off bits & pieces I heard on podcasts and the general description from the website. I went back and read the instructions (that's the last thing anyone does when they have issues, right?)

    1. I didn't have "anchors" in place. This is saying you'll do your habit after some trigger or anchor. For example, I said I'd work on a side project every day for 5 minutes. I never said WHEN I'd do it, so it didn't happen every day. I should have said something like I'll do it right after supper.

    2. I was doing small habits, rather than tiny habits. The habits I was doing could be 5 minutes as with my "do a side project for 5 minutes every day" habit. Or longer with my "have quiet time after breakfast" habit. The definition of a "tiny habit" for the purpose of this program is something you can do in 30 seconds or less. These are truly tiny, tiny habits.

    The point of the 3 Tiny Habits program is not to build a small habit to make life better, it is to build the skill of building habits.

    Tuesday, February 7, 2012

    Apps I use all the time

    I've been trying to declutter and simplify my life. After listening to a couple episodes of the Minimal Mac podcast "Enough" I decided one good way to do that would be figure out which apps I actually use and uninstall everything else.

    Here is the top of my list - apps I use all the time and that actually make my computer useful. I'm going to leave out the obvious stuff like web browsers unless I have something special to say. There other apps I use but they tend to be things I use to tweak my system or things I just use once in a while.

    Apps I use every day:

    1Password - password manager - because I can't remember them all. I also use it to store the serial numbers for the apps I own.

    MacJournal - my note-taking app/everything bucket of choice. If I want to store something and be able to remember it for later, this is likely where it's going to go.

    DropBox - currently the easiest way to keep important files in sync between Macs, iPod Touch, and iPad.

    Reeder - the best Google Reader client I've seen on the Mac. I like using an app rather than the web interface.

    Pomodoro - great simple Pomodoro implementation. You set the timer for 25 minutes of work or 5 minutes for a break and off you go! It logs everything. I've also been experimenting with an app called Vitamin-R that does that plus block out distractions.

    WriteRoom - Minimal text editing. I use this for doing quick notes. The iOS version of this has DropBox sync

    Sparrow - the best email client I've seen for a while. They seem to have taken the best features of Apple's Mail app, the iPad Mail app, Google's gmail interface and blended them together. This is something you must try if you have a Gmail account.

    YNAB - hands down the best budgeting/personal finance app I have ever used. It is built around the concept for zero-based budgeting - every dollar you have is assigned something to do whether this means buying groceries, eating out, saving for an emergency or buying an iPad. There is an iPhone version and Android version. Both sync over the local Wifi network. The iPhone version uses location services to automatically figure out where you are and guess what budget category the transaction will go in making data entry super fast.

    Todo list apps
    I'm currently in the middle of trying to decide which one I like best. I've actually ruled out two because of cost - OmniFocus (too expensive & too complicated for what I want) and The Hit List (looks like Things, plus has some of the features of OmniFocus but syncing requires a yearly subscription fee)

    Things - great app, very slick for managing your lists of things todo. This one is built on the ideas from GTD (David Allen's Getting Things Done) only it refers to "Contexts" as "Tags." It has built in Wifi sync between the desktop and iPhone/iPad version. The general consensus seems to be that Things and OmniFocus are the two best Mac todo list apps if you don't mind dropping some cash on such a thing. Things is simple and elegant. OmniFocus is no less nice looking, but it does EVERYTHING. Most of the time I see people praising OmniFocus, they are either way more OCD than me or own a business and track everything they need to do out of this one app.

    TaskPaper - Tracks your todo lists in simple text files. The iPhone/iPad version syncs via DropBox so you can keep everything up to date.

    todo.txt - shell script based tool made by Gina Trapani of LifeHacker fame. There is also an iPhone/iPad and Android version of this that syncs via DropBox.

    Programming Tools
    Xcode - for developing on iOS and Mac apps.

    TextMate, MacVim, TextWrangler - because as a programmer, I need a good text editor that does syntax highlighting and I flip between these depending on my mood

    Monday, January 30, 2012

    Three Tiny Habits - or Five

    I’ve run into multiple Podcasts and blogs that talk about a program called 3 Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg and decided to check it out. It’s very simple actually. Saturday or Sunday, you pick three tiny habits you want to adopt for a week. Monday through Friday you do your tiny habit.

    I haven’t signed up for the program, but I decided to give it a try. I couldn’t decide on just three habits though, but I did pick five habits I think are most important to what I want to accomplish in my life.

    1. Quiet time after breakast every day.
    2. Drink pop with lunch (trying to cut back on pop)
    3. Track what I eat for lunch
    4. Brush my teeth right after my daughter goes to bed.
    5. Work on a side project 5 minutes a day. This can be programming, writing, or blogging.

    I’m using a program called Sciral Consistency to track my habits. You could use paper & pencil, a spreadsheet or web application called Joe's Goals. I’m sure there are millions of other options, but those are the top ones I know of.