sp;Additionally, even if I was a little more tired than I normally would be, I got a tremendous amount of stuff done during these three weeks. Obviously three weeks is a lot of time off, and most of us would hopefully be able to get a lot accomplished in that amount of time. Nevertheless, I do think that I put those two hours to good use – spending time working out, practicing dance, and checking tasks off of my todo list.
from the comfy couch to our dining room table to do my reading, and am now sitting instead of lying down. The little things can make a big difference.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave that is protected from wireless internet access, own a tin foil hat, wear that tin foil hat with the shiny side facing out, and haven’t been talking to the hermit living in the cave two down from yours, you have probably heard mention of Twitter.
- Talk to Davin about Twitter
- Search Lifehacker for any resources related to Twitter
- Sign up for a Twitter account
- Find some people to follow
- Use Twitter (tweet) for a week
- They’re not really that interested in what I have to say
- It’s just part of the Twitter experience
rations/protests in China were both made possible in part due to Twitter’s ability to enable people to communicate quickly and effectively to a large number of people in a very short amount of time.
One of the projects that I had decided I wanted to take on during my break was to review the web application called Remember the Milk (RTM), and see how it would integrate with my existing GTD (Gettings Things Done) workflow. I am being far from original by writing about GTD and RTM at this stage in the game, but what I can provide is a narrative that may help you in getting yourself more organized, and provide some insight into how you may be able to migrate your own tasks or current system into something similar to this.
My GTD system at home has evolved organically, and partially through my love of aesthetics. There, I said it – I like things that look pretty. That’s fine, as long as it doesn’t hinder any of the more important things. Although my system looked nice and was functional, it felt like it was limited in scope and what I could accomplish with it. If I wanted to quickly get a view of what tasks I needed to do based on some new arbitrary criteria that I hadn’t thought of before, I would either need to manually search through all of my lists, or create a new list to redundantly store all of the items that fit this new criteria (and in doing so, manually search through all my lists in the process of creating this new one). Although I liked the way the system worked, I always had this nagging feeling in the back of my head that I could do so much more with a system that was designed from the ground up with GTD in mind, rather than what I was currently using.
Since converting everything over to RTM and making a go of it for one week, I am sold. The application is very efficient, and integrates perfectly with my GTD workflow. In fact, it synergizes with it, providing me with many new ways to use my database of TODO items much more effectively than I ever did before.
Remember the Milk has a couple of things going for it. First of all, it is a web application, which means that my lists and tasks can go with me wherever I am. I don’t need to check in before leaving the house and copy anything I may need onto paper in order to reference when I’m out. If I’m working on a computer other than my own and an idea pops into my head, I can put in all of the work up front, adding an item to one of my lists and filling out the relevant details.
In addition to this benefit, RTM is simply a much more comprehensive tool for the job than using an ad hoc system like the stickies. What I mean is that RTM has been built with the concept of creating lists of tasks and TODOs in mind, so it provides many options for capturing the pertinent details relevant to things you need to get done. As an example, instead of simply entering in the name of a task, I can enter the name, add any relevant tags (@errand, @home, etc.), provide an estimate for the amount of time required (more on this later), and assign an item a due date.
I can also add any number of notes for a given item, which are then displayed sequentially in a separate view. This is especially handy for capturing any ideas or stray thoughts related to a particular task, and allow for a very organic workflow that can include mini brainstorming sessions related to a given task. With my previous ad hoc system, I would simply add any notes underneath the main item’s name by indenting and adding more text. That attempt would quickly grow out of hand for any item that had more than a few notes, as it would scroll the rest of my items off the screen.
Once I’d made the decision to try out RTM, the first step was to get an account and convert all of my existing stickies over to this new system. For now, I left everything in the sticky system as it was, simply copying across. This way, if things didn’t work out, I could just shut down my RTM account and pick up where I left off, albeit with the necessity of migrating a few new items back. Still, not too much hassle.
RTM’s system of employing lists that hold a set of items translated pretty nicely to my existing groups of tasks and lists, so it was especially simple to copy these notes across. For example, my previous sticky that held a list of gift ideas for Bay was moved across by:
- Create a new list called Gift ideas for Bay
- For each item in my previous list, create a new item in this new list
Okay, so that’s a pretty trite example, but we’re easing in here, so lay off.
Transferring most of my lists was the easiest task, as this had a one-to-one correlation with RTM’s native state. Once I started working on converting my TODO and project lists, I ran into a few snags.
The biggest catch was related to contexts and the division of lists. As of late, I have started to capture contexts for all of the items on my TODO list. The concept behind a context is that it is a quick reference to determine who, what, and where you have to be in order to accomplish a task. If I have a task that is Blog about RTM and GTD, I will assign that task the context @web (GTD uses @ as a shorthand to indicate a context). The reason for this is that I need web access in order to fully public a blog entry. In truth, I could break this task up into two parts: Write Blog Entry (for which the context would possibly be @laptop, or really just @computer), and Publish Blog Entry (for which the context would be @web). In this example, I have them together, as I usually accomplish the two parts in the same sitting.
I will explain more on how contexts can enable you to be more effective within RTM shortly, but for now, the main point is that moving these over into RTM presented my first speed bump. The real hurdle was simply that I actually needed to sit down and think about what contexts and tags I needed to capture in my system. Nothing is worse for functionality and searching than having a bunch of similar but different tags or metadata in your system, as you then end up searching for something like “All tasks that have tag:@web”, but end up missing the tasks that have the tag:@internet. Although it required a little extra time on my part, one of the steps of my migration process (in fact, one of the first tasks I entered into RTM) was sitting down and planning out what contexts and tags I would actually need.
The other item that I wanted to be able to move across was my status
tags. With the sticky system, I created places on my TODO list to hold
items for which I was waiting on something else (typically another
person). Whenever a TODO item was no longer in my control, I would
move it down into the Waiting For section, and go from there. But, how
did I make sense of this concept in the new system? Did I move an existing item into a new list whenever it left my control and passed to someone else? This was certainly one option, but I decided that I wanted to interact with lists as minimally as possible (ideally only having to work with this part of RTM/GTD when initially entering a task) and instead mainly interact with my tasks by changing the tags and other types of metadata associated with them.
One of the first things I did was look online for some ideas as to how to effectively order all of my tasks into lists. As you can tell from above, I was having a hard time getting a feel for where the distinction between tasks and tags lay, and how I could make good on my goal to work minimally with lists, and maximally with tasks. The first blog entry I came across was this one here, featured on the RTM Blog. In this entry, the author recommends creating lists for every project you have, dividing them up into personal, work, and school by prefacing each list with the tags ps, wk, and sc, respectively.
This approach is nice because it allows you to maintain but keep separate multiple sets of lists for different pursuits. I don’t have to look at ps lists when I’m under the gun at work or school, and can solely focus on items within those lists.
The author also recommends creating a na to assign to any task that is immediately actionable. This tag indicates that there is nothing that you need to accomplish before you can start work on this task – an important part of GTD, as we want to capture as many steps of a project as possible, but when it’s time to work, we want to focus solely on the next steps. It is a pointless exercise to focus on something that is currently bottle-necked waiting for something else to finish – we should be focusing on the task that is bottle-necking things!
My first iteration ended up following a lot of this author’s advice. I created the appropriate lists, and assigned the ns tag to all of my actionable items (I prefer ns for “next step”, rather than na for “next action” – simply a matter of preference). For any project, you should have a minimum of one actionable item. If not, you should be asking yourself why you do not have an item you can act upon. If it’s a lack of motivation, you should either delete this project, or move it into the Someday/Maybe list (see below).
I also really liked the author’s recommendation that you assign a “goal task” for each of your project lists. Create your project, and make the first task you enter take the following format:
.. [Goal of Project]
This will, in theory, do two things: This task will sort to the top (when sorting by name) due to its preceding two periods, and will provide you with an immediate idea of the aim of this project when you are performing your weekly review. Having this information readily available will make your life easier when you are reviewing your lists, and thinking about the underlying goal of a given project is a great way to ensure that you are on track (and stay on it) when you initially start entering a project.
It will also get your brain engaged in the process of brainstorming tasks when you initially enter a project. Sometimes you may be surprised simply by the process of writing down the goal for a given project (“Okay, so I want to have the TV on the wall. … Hmm, why do I want that? It won’t actually look prettier.. Am I only doing this for the coolness factor?”).
I also made it a point to assign a priority of “1″ (the highest priority) to all of my Goal tasks so that these sort straight to the top of my list no matter what.
What are you waiting for?
We still haven’t covered something I mentioned earlier: items we’re waiting on. The author of the above blog recommended creating a list for all items that you are waiting on, and moving those items into the list. However, I didn’t like this idea for a couple of reasons. First off, this approach would require interacting with lists more than I want to. More of an issue though, is that, currently, the lists are the way that I can identify the project for which a given task pertains to. If I move a task called Crop Photos from the list ps – Wedding Photos to Waiting For, I lose the information that that specific is a step in the Wedding Photos project. How do I know which list I move it back to when I am no longer waiting for something?
No, this wouldn’t do. I made a mental note that I would need to find a better approach to accommodating these items, and moved on.
The last step of the process was creating a Someday/Maybe list for each of my personal, work, and school tasks. The Someday/Maybe lists contain items that may be cool to take on someday, but don’t really fit in with your current objectives, goals, or time-commitments. This is the place for any task like Go Skydiving or Learn Spanish. If you intend to complete these projects now, then they should be in their own list. However, if these items are currently just passing fancies, then they go in the Someday/Maybe list, and you capture only the general idea (for these items, it is not yet valuable enough to brainstorm tasks and steps to achieve them).
After completing the initial set up based on the blog entry mentioned above, I was still not satisfied. The items I had that I was waiting for were still nagging at me, and I felt like I could put tags to a more effective use. I searched further and found this excellent blog entry at SheenOnline. This author’s approach differed from the previous in that tags were used exclusively to denote that a given task belonged to a given project, as well as indicating that I was waiting on something.
This seemed a more practical approach to me, as I could have a task that was both part of a proejct, and marked as waiting for something. I went through all of my tasks and this time reclassified them using the system outlined in the blog entry. Specifically, you use the following special tags:
- Tags preceded with a @ are for context: @Home, @Downtown, etc.
- Tags preceded with a – are for status: -NS, -WF
- Tags preceded with a . are for project names: .FixSink, .FrameWeddingPhotos, .RedesignBlogLayout, etc.
In addition to these special tags, you can apply any other tags that you like to your projects. Once you have completed this process, you will have a large number of tasks that have specific contexts, some that will have a status (those that don’t will typically be tasks in a project that need something else to happen first), and lastly, a set of tasks without a project name tag (daily or ad hoc tasks) and those that do belong to a project.
The contexts that I am using are: @Web, @Laptop, @Home, @Downtown, @Phone, and @Errand. In RTM, you will want to assign any physical context (a specific location) as a location rather than a tag (these behave almost the same way, except that locations integrate with Google Maps, allowing you to quickly search for everything you can accomplish within 10km of your current location).
The statuses I use are: -NS, and -WF.&nbs
p; A task is either an actionable item (-NS) or not (in which case it does not have an -NS tag. Additionally, a task can be waiting for someone or something before I can complete it (-WF). Avoid the temptation to assign -WF to every task that is not an actionable item. -WF should be reserved for those tasks that have been delegated out to someone else.
The projects I have.. are too numerous to bother mentioning, and will not coincide with your own anyhow, so we can leave that one as is.
Smartlists and Handy Searches
Now that you’ve got everything tagged, you can begin creating smartlists. Smartlists are simply saved searches. One of the strengths of RTM is its comprehensive searching functionality, allowing you to search for any number of criteria and combining them to create effective lists. For each project tag that I created in the step above, I also created a smartlist to display all tasks with that tag. This gives me a way to quickly determine what steps are left on a given project (important for the weekly review).
Whenever you add a new task within the context of a smartlist, RTM will automatically assign that task with the appropriate tags, provided that the search saved for the smartlist is unambiguous. What this means is that any task created within the context of a smartlist with a search like this: tag:.becomeNinja AND tag:@Home will have both the .becomeNinja tag and the @Home location assigned to it. However, a task created in the context of a smartlist with a search like this: tag:.becomeNinja OR tag:.becomePirate will have neither tag assigned to it, as it is ambiguous which tag should be assigned.
What about the more interesting searches though? Some of the searches I have saved as smartlists are:
- Errands – “tag:@errand AND status:incomplete AND tag:-ns AND NOT tag:-wf”
This list displays all errands that I’m currently able to run. I define an errand as any task that I need to accomplish when I’m out of the house. Groceries, picking up drycleaning, buying a new set of squash shoes, all qualify as errands.
- Waiting – “tag:-wf AND status:incomplete”
Nothing complex here, but this is an important part of the weekly review. With this list, I can quickly assess who and what I am waiting on, and determine if I need to follow up with anything. This helps ensure that nothing slips through the cracks.
- Quickies – “timeEstimate:”< 1 hour” AND tag:-ns AND NOT tag:wf”
This is a very handy list to have. If you’ve created time estimates for your tasks as you’ve entered them (and you should get in the habit of doing this, as you won’t bother after you initially enter them), you can use a list like this to determine what you can accomplish quickly when you find yourself with a desire to get something done and only 30 minutes before you need to go and do something else. I often find myself referencing this list before I go play squash and before bedtime.
- No Due Date – “status:incomplete AND tag:-ns AND due:never”
This list allows me to assess all of the next steps for which I have not yet assigned a due date. These are items that are likely to slip through the cracks, as they will not show up in my main TODO list (see below). The items in this list may or may not be legitimate. Legitimate cases are the ones where I have planned out the tasks for a project and identified what the next steps are, but have not yet made the decision to actually commit to working on the project. If an item stays in this state for too long, I will eventually move the project into the Sometime/Maybe list (or just delete it if I no longer want to do it). This list is always checked as part of my weekly review in order to determine if I’m ready to commit to a new project, and to make sure I have no tasks that I have accidentally neglected to assign a due date.
- Completed Today – “completed:today”
I created this list when Bay came home one day and asked me what I’d done. I couldn’t tell her immediately, but quickly typed in this search and was able to show her everything that I’d accomplished (seriously, my marriage is more exciting than this makes it sound). Being able to quickly assess what you’ve accomplished in a given day is good for your psyche and will help you on those days when you feel like you haven’t been able to get anything finished. Don’t underestimate the value of this list.
- Todo Next – “status:incomplete AND tag:-ns AND (dueWithin: “1 week of today” OR dueBefore:today)”
This is the main list that I work from on a daily basis. It contains all items that are not yet completed, are next steps (ie, actionable), and that are either due within 1 week of today, or are overdue. The list is ordered based on due date, so that I can work through from top to bottom, closing out tasks on my plate, and getting a feel for what the coming week looks like at any moment. This list currently contains items that I have tagged as waiting for something and I am not yet sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. As this list essentially acts as a daily tickler file, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing being reminded that a given task is approaching a due date but that I am still waiting for something before it can be completed. If this becomes bothersome, I will simply update the search to remove all tasks that are waiting for something, and rely on my weekly review in order to ensure that they don’t slip through the cracks.
In addition to everything mentioned above, I use RTM to manage and maintain any lists that exist outside of my GTD system. By this I simply mean lists that are just.. lists. Gift ideas, ideas for dates, ideas to blog about, etc. None of the items in these lists are specific tasks that I need to act upon, and the beauty of the above set up is that nothing in these lists will show up.
Trick out my RTM
One thing I noticed is that RTM’s interface is a little spartan, and at times, cluttered. It becomes especially cluttered when you are running a large number of lists, as you will have the tendency to do if you are using it for GTD in this manner (every project ends up being its own smartlist, adding to the smart and regular lists I’ve just mentioned above). I went searching for ways to alleviate and improve the look and feel of this interface within Firefox. I’m using Firefox because Safari is my main browser, and I needed a application to remain persistent on my machine and allow for as much customization as I wanted. Firefox is a bit of a memory hog, though I haven’t noticed any real problems.
In order to make this a persistent part of my system, I ended up doing the following:
- Set Firefox to open and sit in, by default, my first virtual desktop.
I use six virtual desktops – one contains my GTD system, one contains my browser, one my mail, one my music, etc. This simply provides an easy way to mentally and visually separate my windows, and is functionality that is supported by default on Mac and UNix/Linux machines. Windows users can download third-party applications to support this (though I don’t know offhand what they are).
- Set the home page of Firefox to be three tabs: My RTM home page, A page showing the list of keyboard shortcuts for RTM, and a page showing a list of search criteria that can be used in RTM.
This gives me a quick s
et of reference pages to jump to whenever I can’t quite remember how to search for a specific thing, or if I am trying to learn a new keyboard shortcut
In order to improve the layout of RTM, I followed a number of the suggestions in this lifehacker article. The significant changes are:
- Show keyboard shortcuts next to each item
This removes the guesswork for keyboard shortcuts, and will help you learn the appropriate shortcuts much faster. Using keyboard shortcuts is a must if you want to get the most out of your system, as I find mousing around horribly inefficient when you can click on key and jump straight to the appropriate spot on screen, ready to enter your text.
- Longer search box
Nothing is more annoying than trying to review the search you just created to ensure that it’s correct, and having to arrow-key through 15 characters of text. This improvement simply makes the search input box larger so you can see most (if not all) of what you’ve entered.
- Widescreen layout
This simply optimizes the RTM interface for a wider screen, allowing you to view more at once.
- RTM Greasemonkey Script
Greasemonkey is an add-on for Firefox allowing you to add custom user-scripts to the application. These scripts can be applied globally, or specifically for a given site (in this case, for RTM). This tweak is the most important one, as it moves all of your lists from tabs to a much cleaner look on the left side of the screen. It also creates some much needed shortcuts (Control-Shift-J and -K to move up and down the lists on the left side, Control-G to jump to a given list, and Control-M to move the currently selected task(s) to a given list).
I also installed the Quicksilver plug-in for RTM, which allows you to rapidly add a task to your set of lists from anywhere using the familiar Quicksilver interface. As much as I love Quicksilver, I haven’t actually found the need to use this plugin, as my process for adding a task is typically: Control-1 (switch to virtual desktop #1, which contains RTM, and only RTM), hit T to create a new task, fill out pertinent details). I also like to have the context of the RTM system when I’m entering new tasks, which you lose when you enter a task right from the Quicksilver interface.
So that’s about it. This project has been a significant success, and I’m excited for the opportunity to put the next evolution of my system to the test in two weeks when school starts.
Lastly, most of my purpose in blogging is as a way of tracking and documenting my own personal growth. However, it is also my own manner of publishing and establishing my credibility as an expert in certain fields, such as productivity, and project management. I won’t ask this often, but from time to time will mention that if you find any of these articles helpful, please do me a small favour and share them in Facebook, Google Reader, Twitter, pass them along to people you know that may derive benefit from them, or whatever else you deem appropriate.
That’s all for now – if you have any questions or feedback, please leave a comment and I will address.
Lifehacking is an odd term, but the benefits that the activity bring are well worth getting past that initial connotation. To me, lifehacking is the process of making changes in your life, your routine, and the way you think, in order to make you more efficient, accomplish more, and generally getting yourself out of your way so that you can do the things you want.
Although the lay-person’s idea of hacking is some 35 year-old sitting in their parent’s basement breaking into the military’s computers, the reality is that hackers are generally just people that tinker with their computers in order to optimize them as much as possible. In order to determine the best ways that you can modify a system, you need to undergo a process of analysis to figure out how things fit together, and where you can make changes that will have the most benefit. Lifehacking is analogous to this process, but applied to our life, our bodies, and our minds, rather than to a computer.
Although some people refer to each of these pursuits individually (mindhacking, bodyhacking, and lifehacking), I lump them all together into one term, because I find it hard enough to accept that I go around using the word lifehacking, let alone two other equally awkward sounding terms.
My three week retreat since leaving my job is mostly devoted to this pursuit, in preparation for the start of school, but also simply because I would like to establish a number of new and positive habits before I am under the familiar, crushing burden of school work, at which point I will not be given an opportunity to affect new change in my life until the first term is complete.
Today I’m just going to review some of the items I have recently introduced into my daily routines and life, and how they have allowed me to become more efficient.
I have recently posted the first of three weeks worth of journals related to my experiment with biphasic sleep. The notion of biphasic sleep is that by sleeping in two intervals, rather than the more typical single interval, our sleep becomes more efficient, and thus we require less.
By introducing this routine into my life, I have been able to squeeze an extra two hours out of every day. It is pretty rare that you will be able to introduce a lifehack that makes you efficient enough to gain an extra two hours out of every day, no questions asked.
The counterpoint to this method of sleeping is that having an extra two hours of wakefulness may be a waste of time if you spend a lot of time sitting around bored. Personally I think boredom is the worst way to spend time imaginable, and so I diligently keep track of all my projects, ideas, and activities that I’m working on, and manage my tasks using the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology (more on this further down). Whenever I’m bored, I review my TODO list, my projects, and see what I can work on and go from there. If nothing jumps out at me, or I feel like I just need to relax and take a break, I’ll read or play video games, and this is fine too.
The real key here is that if you are considering making this change in your life, be sure that you’ve got things with which to fill your time.
Quicksilver is an application that is available for Macs.
Before I go any further, I would like to preface this section by talking briefly about Macs (the computers). I firmly believe that Apple makes products with one of their goals being that the user experience should be paramount above all else. What this means is that using a Mac is almost always a pleasing experience. Not only have Apple designed their products this way, but they have built their operating system in a manner that allows and encourages third-party developers to design programs that adhere to these same principles. The end result is that you get a product that is very polished (not just superficially, but all the way up and down the user experience), and stays out of your way when you are using it.
I am not speaking as someone that has existed inside a Mac-only bubble his entire life – I grew up using Windows machines and went through my entire Computer Science undergrad using Windows machines. I lovingly purchased and cobbled together powerful PCs, managed and upgraded the machines, networked and tinkered with them, and hacked with them to make my experience with them as efficient as possible. Then I got a Mac and within a week realized that I would never again own another Windows machine unless absolutely necessary. Everything is that much easier, that much more efficient, and that much more pleasing (this last point is where most techies typically get hung up, making the assumption that is the only thing that Macs have going for them. That’s fine with me, but it’s inaccurate).
The Mac community is one that has developed around a shared appreciation for good design and efficiency, and as a result, Macs generally have a large amount of applications available that allow for these kinds of practices. Chief among those products is Quicksilver.
Quicksilver can be summarized as a keyboard launcher, but this understates how much it can do for you. In reality, Quicksilver allows you to do anything and everything rapidly and with just a few keystrokes. If I have a file on my desktop that I want to move to a folder on my computer called Adam/Cool_Stuff/Ninjas/Robot_Parrots_vs_Ninjas/, I can do this in two ways.
The standard way that many of us are used to doing is to click on the file on my desktop, hit cmd-x (ctrl-x for Windows users), then open a Finder or Explorer window, then click through our directory structure until we get to the appropriate folder, then hit cmd-v (ctrl-v for Windows users), pasting the file into the folder.
The Quicksilver way that I would accomplish this is to click the file on my desktop, hit cmd-escape (which brings up the Quicksilver window with my file selected), hit tab, type “move”, hit tab again, and type “Robot_”, and then enter. I don’t need to type the whole folder name because Quicksilver narrows down the list of places I can send the file as I continue typing until I’m left with just one result. This is significantly faster, does not require using the mouse for a lot of the work (which is inefficient compared to the keyboard), and does not leave me with extra windows open that I then need to close.
This is a pretty mundane example. How about a cooler one? Let’s say I’m reading an article online and I see a word I don’t know. Typically you would open a new tab, head over to http://dictionary.com, type in the word, read the definition, close the tab, and resume reading. With Quicksilver, I highlight the word, type cmd-escape (which this time brings up my Quicksilver window with the highlighted word selected), tab, and then start typing “define”. As soon as the results are narrowed down to “Define word”, I hit enter and a small window pops open showing me the definition for my word. I can close this window quickly once finished by typing cmd-w.
For both of these examples, it is very easy to counter by saying “Yah, well, I have my own way of doing that, and it’s plenty efficient, so there’s no need for me to bother with Quicksilver”. This is a fair counter-point, when you are looking at specific cases. However, the thing that makes Quicksilver not just handy, but essential, is that it provides an efficient way for you to do virtually everything you can possibly imagine, and always in a fairly intuitive manner. Additionally, Quicksilver provides plugins for virtually everything you can imagine. There’s an iTunes plugin, so that you can change your volume, change to the next track, request a new song in iTunes DJ, a
nd rate the current song, all with a minimal number of keystrokes and without having to leave the task you’re currently working on. There’s a websearch plugin so that you can use Quicksilver to instantly search whatever site you like with the search string of your choice, without having to go through the process of opening up a new tab, typing the website you want to search, finding the search box, entering the search string, and hitting enter.
Again, don’t look at the specific examples and tell yourself that you can do that in a different way. The reason that Quicksilver shines is that it allows you to do almost everything this quickly and effectively. Once you start tinkering with it and adding new plugins, you’ll be amazed that you were able to function without it.
Windows users – your best choice is something called Launchy (which I used at work). Launchy is better than nothing, but it doesn’t have the modular design that Quicksilver does, meaning that it doesn’t have anywhere near the comprehensiveness or number of plugins that Quicksilver does. Still, just adding a keyboard launcher can make you more efficient. Hitting alt-enter, and typing “excel” is generally going to be faster than using the mouse to click through a number times to get to Excel from the Start menu.
Getting Things Done (GTD)
Being organized and having effective time-management skills will both create more time for you. By having a clear head and an awareness of what tasks you have on your plate at any given time, you will be able to spend more time present in the moment, and waste less time trying to remember what that thing was that you had to do, and figure out what your next step is.
While many people will throw up their arms and claim “I’m just not good at being organized”, this is a cop-out. Organization and time-management are both skills that can be practiced and cultivated. Although some people will naturally be more intuitive at applying these skills, there is no reason that you cannot learn new skills to organize yourself, and new methods for coping with everything that life demands of us.
Getting Things Done is a methodology conceived of by David Allen. This method provides a workflow and a system for dealing with every new piece of information that comes at you, tracking your projects and tasks, and completing things in a timely manner. My mentor at Refractions, Krista Stellar, had been practicing GTD for a while before I started working with her, and it was something that I learned largely through osmosis. In spite of the many excellent things she taught me, I think that the introduction to GTD was the most significant thing that I took away from my time spent working with her.
The reason for this is simply that the GTD methodology can be applied to almost everything that comes at you in life, and staying organized and on top of things will give you a relaxed sense of control. Stress robs us of our ability to think clearly, our ability to enjoy ourselves, and our ability to remain present. By eliminating stress related to poor organization, you will remove this time-sink from your life, and gain more time to focus on the things that are important.
If you are interested in reading more about GTD, you can click the appropriate tag on the cloud to the right, or check out Merlin Mann’s 43Folders blog post here.
If taking on an entire new system seems like too much overhead right now, you can start by making two changes in your daily routine:
- Start maintaining a TODO list. Write down whatever you have to do, along with any information related to each item that is needed to accomplish it. When you finish an item, cross it off your TODO list. At the start of each day, create a new TODO list, and review your old TODO list. If there are items that you no longer care about, cross them off, and move over all of the remainingitems that did not get finished from the previous day’s TODO list.
- Apply the two minute rule. Whenever a new piece of information or task comes at you, deal with it immediately in two minutes. If you can finish it right away in two minutes or less, get it done. If you cannot finish it in two minutes, but it is something you will do soon, add it to your TODO list. If it is something that you need to file away, do so. Whatever it is, deal with it in two minutes.
Just by implementing these two rules, you will remove a lot of the overhead that is caused by letting new pieces of information come at you and simply sit in your inbox (physical or e-mail), or worse yet, in your head.
Remember the Milk (RTM)
Remember the milk is a web-application that integrates perfectly with the GTD methodology. Instead of needing to maintain a physical, or paper-based system, RTM allows you to maintain all of your tasks, projects, and todo lists online. Not only is all of this information available to you wherever you have access to the web, but it is also supported by an iPhone app and syncing software for other smartphones.
Although I won’t go into detail about RTM today (that is a topic for another time), I think that this is the most significant evolution I have made to my personal system since I began blogging about it.
Everyone likes to talk about multi-tasking at work, but typically what they really mean is that they’re browsing the web when they should be working on a spreadsheet. This kind of multi-tasking is inefficient, and should really be labelled “working with distractions”. Although I completely appreciate the need for healthy distraction and allow myself that same luxury, this is not the type of multi-tasking that I’m referring to.
The type of multi-tasking I’m talking about doesn’t even need to take place in front of a computer screen. When I’m referring to multi-tasking, I simply mean accomplishing more than one thing at once. If you take a few minutes to think about your daily routine, there are likely certain activities that you will do that include periods of time where you’re not doing anything. Some excellent examples from my own life are:
- Walking to and from work
- Working out
- Waiting for someone to meet me
- Getting ready in the morning
Walking to and from work and biking are essentially periods of down time for my mind. Sometimes it is important to have time to just let yourself zone out, and I encourage you to grant yourself this from time to time. However, the rest of the time, you could be putting your mind to work. One excellent way to accomplish this is using audiobooks and podcasts. Audiobooks are a great way to learn while you’re doing something physical, allowing you to focus your mind on something constructive while your body works physically. There are podcasts available on virtually every subject these days, and these present great opportunities to increase the breadth of your knowledge. Have you got a recurring TODO item like “learn Spanish”? Download an audio book or podcast related to this topic and get started.
Working out represents a decent amount of downtime, as your mind is not really working throughout, and you also need to rest your muscles in between each set. I find that with a set of free-weights at home, I can usually complete emptying the dishwasher and folding my laundry by the time I am done my workout, simply by getting up and working on these chores in between each set.
By making sure that you have a notebook and pencil with you whenever you go out,
and your iPod, you can ensure that you never have to sit around doing nothing while you wait for someone to meet you. You can work on brainstorming or planning out a project you have in mind with the notebook (and throw on music while you’re doing this), or just spend the time listening to an audiobook or podcast.
You can make your morning routine more efficient by pouring yourself a bowl of cereal and bringing it with you into the bedroom while you pick out what you’re going to wear for the day and do your hair. Some people have weird hang-ups about eating food anywhere but the kitchen and the dining room, but I don’t think there’s much validity to this (especially given that the bathroom is generally one of the cleanest places in your house. Let’s not talk about your keyboard; you’re not eating around that are you?). If your response to this is that you don’t eat breakfast in the morning and you save time that way, then you should re-evaluate your priorities. Saving time in the morning at the expense of your health is the wrong way to go – eat your breakfast, and make time for it by multi-tasking.
So those are some of the important lifehacks that I’ve taken on board, both recently and in the not-too-distant past. I recommend giving any of these a shot if you ever find yourself wishing that you had more time. Choose one of these that compels you, and commit yourself to trying it out for two weeks to see if it works for you. Whatever you do, make sure you keep one thing in mind: if you find yourself complaining about being bored, you are not allowed to complain about not having enough time.
I finished work last week, and had three weeks ahead of me. Prior to the end of work, I had been collecting a large number of projects that I wanted to tackle before school started. I will be writing later on about some of those, but today’s topic is related to what is probably the weirdest project on my list.
This project is to move from sleeping in one single unbroken phase (usually 8 hours), to a biphasic sleeping pattern, consisting of a core sleep at night, and a nap during the day.
There are many reasons for doing this, but the most significant is that by changing to this sleeping pattern, I am able to go from requiring about 8 hours of sleep to 6 hours (in theory). If you are reading this blog, you likely have some kind of passing interest in productivity, as I write about the subject fairly often. Can you think of a lifehack or productivity trick that you have implemented recently that has netted you an extra two hours of spare time everyday? Most of us cannot answer “yes” to that question. I, however, can, and that is what this entry is about.
Two hours may not seem like a very big number to you when you first read it, but let me put that into perspective. We spend about 8 hours of our day sleeping (typically), which leaves us with 16 hours of wakefulness during which we can actually do stuff. Adding an extra two hours onto that is an increase of 1/8th to the amount of time you have available to you. At the end of the week, that is an extra 14 hours within which to do things. If you prefer the longterm picture, let’s say I live to the age of 75. I have started this experiment at the age of 30, which means I can sleep biphasically for the next 45 years. That roughly translates to gaining an extra 5.5 years of life.
These claims probably sound grandiose, and that’s fine. Hacking your sleeping habits is certainly not for everyone. Bay’s initial reaction upon me mentioning this to her was “I don’t like this at all”. After discussing with her, we concluded that she didn’t like it for the following reasons:
- It’s weird
- We won’t get to go to bed together anymore
- She likes sleeping next to me
The first point is technically correct, but irrelevant. Something being weird is usually just an indication that something is different from the status quo. The virtue of simply being different from the status quo should never be a reason not to try something out. One of the more disappointing conversations I had recently was related to a friend telling me that he was a fan of the status quo, but without being able to provide any real validation to support this stance. The status quo is nothing other than what we are currently comfortable with due to familiarity.
The second point is totally valid. It’s important to both of us to spend time chatting in bed, cuddling, reading, being close to each other, and well… yah. Fortunately, this point was easy to mitigate. I could simply plan my core sleep so that I would go to bed when Bay would, and get up earlier. My original plan was to stay up later and wake up with Bay, but it would not be a problem to switch this up so that we could have time in the evening together.
The last point is kind of romantic, but not really relevant beyond that. The time we spend sleeping is time during which we are almost entirely oblivious to the world. Our body is resting and recovering from the day, and in order to do this effectively, it switches off our receptiveness to external stimuli. Although spending more time sleeping together is a romantic notion, I would rather have extra time that I could spend with Bay during my waking hours due to the fact that I’d accomplished more of my chores during the early morning when she was asleep.
After talking this through, and letting Bay know that I was simply conducting an experiment for three weeks to see how things went, she acquiesced (though she continued to shake her head at her weird husband), and I figured out what I would do. The plan was this:
- Core sleep of 4.5 hours from 11:00PM to 3:30AM
- Nap of 1.5 from 4:00PM to 5:30PM
The nap time would hopefully be adaptable (as would the core sleep, depending on when Bay was ready), but I have no guarantee of this, so I just chose what might feel like a reasonable time to get some shut eye once school starts.
The other thing I planned was to journal about the experience, so that I could become part of the many polyphasic sleepers on the internet that are logging their own experiences, and so that I could maintain some objective distance and look back and review how things are going. This is, after all, an experiment.
So, without further ado, here is the first week of my journal based on the experience:
Bi-phasic Sleep Journal – Week One
Started: August 17
Day 1 (Monday)
Discussed options with Bay, and agreed that going to sleep together was something we wanted to maintain. Went to bed at 11:00 with Bay, and set my alarm for 3:30, aiming for 4.5 hours of sleep (three intervals of ninety minutes each). Woke up around 1:30ish, went to bathroom. Checked clock to make sure I’m on track, and fell back asleep. Woke up again at 3:20, checked alarm, went to bathroom and got up.
Took me a little bit of time to get into gear. Worked out, reviewed e-mail, completed a task off my TODO list and started on another, this time reviewing and learning about AppleScript.
Starting to get a little bit sleepy. Going to head out of the house to attempt to snap out of it. Yawning.
Fell asleep quite easily, and napped for the full time. Woke up at one point and realized I had been dreaming. This had occurred within less than 30 minutes, as my iPod was still playing and I’d set it to shut off in 30 minutes. This is the first time in my experiment that I’ve actually felt compelled to fall back asleep after getting up.
Day 2 (Tuesday)
Went to sleep with Bay at 11, and stayed up until around 11:20 talking. Set my alarm for 4 to give myself 10 minutes to fall asleep and then 4.5 hours from then until I needed to wake up. Alarm went off at 4 (I didn’t wake up naturally before it this time), but it was quite easy to get up. I had obviously just finished a sleep cycle, as I was able to rise out of bed fairly quickly and didn’t feel groggy. Brushed my teeth, worked out, and started on a few projects. It’s now 6:00 and I still feel pretty on the ball.
Have not been yawning today, though it is now 12:30, and I can tell that my body is starting to prepare itself for a nap. My eyelids feel just slightly sandy.
Again fell asleep easily. I noted that I was partially aware of myself falling asleep, much like yesterday. Perhaps this is the doorway toward lucid dreaming.
I woke up briefly at 4:00 to check my alarm, out of fear that I was sleeping through it but this turned out to be baseless. Went back to sleep and woke up again at 4:23, and then got back to my routine. The most annoying part about sleeping is how greasy my face feels when I wake up – easily remedied by washing my face, still, annoying.
Otherwise I feel fully awake and refreshed. So far I’m enjoying biphasic.
Day 3 (Wednesday)
Again went to sleep at 11, aiming for consistency. This was probably the hardest time waking up yet. It wasn’t really hard per se, it was just difficult to drag myself out of bed. I think I may have been in the final stages of REM sleep, as I was in the middle of some kind of imagery when my alarm went off. The biggest thing I miss is th
at feeling of waking up from 8 hours of sleep. However, I suspect that that may just be a mental thing, rather than an actual physiological thing. Based on my performance (physical and mental) I don’t think I’m actually accumulating sleep debt, though that will remain to be seen toward the end of this week when I will feel most inclined to sleep in.
Falling into bed for the scheduled nap felt relaxing as always. I slept fairly soundly, waking up briefly before falling back asleep again, and woke up 10 minutes before my alarm went off – usually the indication of the end of my sleep cycle it seems.
Interestingly, when napping, I am usually much more aware of the process of me falling asleep, this time remaining conscious throughout the process of my limbs twitching a little bit prior to actually falling asleep. Again no trouble waking up, but I sure do hate the greasy feeling I have on my face whenever I take a nap. I’ve established the following routine upon waking up from a nap: brush mouthguard, brush teeth, wash face with cold water. This process is a familiar routine and helps get my mind back into the state of wakefulness. The cold water on my face feels great and refreshing.
Day 4 (Thursday)
I got up easily, but am finding it fairly difficult to stay focused and awake an hour later (5:00AM). This is the first morning where I have started things off by working out. I’ve made tea and starting off with some cognitive tasks – we’ll see how things go.
After the rough start for the first hour, I’m back on track. The tea may have helped, or it could have been sitting down and doing something that demanded interaction and attention (today that was playing Super Street Fighter 2 – the previous three days it was working out). One thing that I find really nice about sleeping biphasically is that I no longer need to stress out about getting to bed too late.
Typically the amount of sleep that I get would be tied to when I get to bed, as I would not be able to sleep in past my alarm, which I would set to go off to give me enough time to wake up, get ready, and head out the door for work or school. With biphasic sleeping, since I’m typically getting up four hours before I would need to leave for work or anything, I have tons of leeway to stay up a little later than I would normally, without it impacting my ability to get the 4.5 hours that I need for my core sleep.
Being up early has dramatically improved my ability to devote some time to things that I’ve wanted to accomplish previously, such as dancing – it’s pretty easy to book an hour of practice when I don’t have any other demands on my time, so that’s what I’ve been doing from 6:00 – 7:00 in the morning.
Day 5 (Friday)
It’s getting easier to wake up in the morning, but getting up from the nap can still be a little bit frustrating, as I’m not used to the usual feeling of ‘restarting the engine’ in the afternoon that comes from waking from a nap. This weekend will be a good test of the biphasic sleeping pattern, and seeing how it fits in with the rest of my life. I have a bit of a dualistic nature when it comes to activity. During the week, I’m very focused on tasks, exercise, and a well-timed schedule. On the weekends, I love hanging out with friends, socializing, partying, and letting things flow in a manner that is much less regimented. Probably most significantly, while I still aim to get the right amount of sleep (I truly believe that getting good rest, drinking lots of water, exercising, and stretching are the closest you can get to a fountain of youth), the times I go to sleep are completely contingent on whatever I end up doing on Friday and Saturday. If I’m going out to the bar (rare), or heading to a friend’s place for drinks, it’s quite likely that I may not actually get into bed until 2:00AM the next morning. In the past, as long as I made sure I woke up around 9 or 10, I would get enough rest, and not lose my entire day (is there anything worse than sleeping in to noon? I hate doing this).
I’m heading out to a hiphop show with Brooke, Jo, Piper, and Jesse tonight at Plan B (WTF), and suspect that this will lead to a late evening. My intention is to act no differently than I normally would. If biphasic sleeping does not allow me to do the things that I normally would, it isn’t going to be a useful thing for me.
Nothing specific to report about my nap today, other than to state that the worst part of biphasic so far is definitely having to go through the waking process a second time every day. When I say waking process, I mean, opening my eyes, shutting off my alarm, getting out of bed, brushing my teeth, cleaning my mouthguard, washing my face, and having something to eat to get things rolling.
The good news is that this is really the only bad thing I can say about it, and I absolutely love the way I feel the rest of the time. My energy levels are more consistent, and I feel motivated and energized throughout the day, rather than experiencing surges of energy at specific points during the day, followed by periods completely lacking in energy. Getting up at 3:30, which sounds utterly disgusting without any context, is awesome when you consider that I wake up easily and feeling fully rested, and then have three hours within which I can work on whatever I like before I even need to start thinking about getting ready for work, school, etc.
Day 6 (Saturday)
So, I had a good night last night, and after Plan B, we went to The Mint to hang out for a bit and chat before finding our separate ways home. I would elaborate more on the night, but this is a journal related to biphasic sleeping, and not a blog or a Facebook status update, so I’ll stay focused.
I got in at 2:00 AM this morning, and I usually need about a half hour to wind down prior to being ready for bed. Additionally, I had been drinking at the club, so I was a still a little tipsy when my head hit the pillow at 2:30 (I did, however, make a point of drinking two large bottles of water, as I always do, to ensure that I didn’t wake up feeling de-hydrated). I set my alarm for 4.5 hours later, and at 7:00, got up out of bed, once again, feeling refreshed and ready for the day. Honestly, I was pretty amazed. I figured that being out and getting to sleep later would have a detrimental effect on the whole system and play havoc with my new sleeping pattern, but it integrated perfectly.
The thing that I find fascinating is that the only real requirement here is that I get 4.5 hours of core sleep at some point before the next day. With a monophasic sleeping pattern, the main requirement is that you get 7.5 hours of sleep before you get back up. If you go to bed later, that’s acceptable, provided that you stay in bed long enough to meet this requirement. You can then reset your sleeping pattern by going to sleep at a reasonable hour the following night and getting 7.5 hours again. Biphasically, it’s the same thing. I just need to make sure that I get 4.5 hours of sleep during my core sleep, and can then reset again by taking my nap at the usual time, and going from there.
So, remarkably, I was able to go out to the club, have some drinks with some friends, come home, go to sleep at 2:30, sleep for 4.5 hours, and then wake up ready to go about my day as normal at 7:30 the next day. Pretty incredible isn’t it? There is one drawback to combining inebriation with biphasic sleeping, and this is that instead of having eight hours within which my liver can process and extract the alcohol from my blood, it only has 4.5 hours. If you’re in the habit of large and frequent drinking binges, you’ll be able to wake up fine, but you’re probably going to get out of bed and walk straight in to a wall.&
nbsp; Then again, if you’re in the habit of frequent drinking binges, you’re probably not the sort of person that is particularly keen on being productive and hacking your life and your sleeping patterns like I am.
I met up with Davin and Jay this morning for breakfast (after being up for 2.5 hours), and then hung out and played Magic with them. After they left, I took my nap at 5:00PM, and then woke up, got ready, and headed out with Dan and Kellie for some drinks and conversation (great day!). Fall asleep for my nap has consistently been easy so far, and once again I woke up just before my alarm went off. After finishing up at the Bent Mast, I came home, tidied things up, and then went to bed at 1:45AM.
Day 7 (Sunday)
The end of the first week of my experiment! My alarm woke me at 6:30, and I got straight up out of bed and started the day. One of the things that I absolutely love about this sleeping habit is that I no longer feel like a slave to my sleeping tendencies. I recognize how cheesy that sounds, so let me try to explain. Normally on the weekends, I would go to sleep whenever I was ready to, and then set some time that I wanted to get up. I would try to ensure that I was getting 7.5 hours of sleep, but if I went to bed at 2:30 (I really enjoy getting stuff done late at night on the weekends), I would usually aim to arise at 9:00 in the morning, which meant I would only get 6.5 hours. In these cases, one of two things would happen: I would hit the snooze button 6 or 7 times before I was finally able to tear myself out of bed, OR, I would groggily pull myself out of bed and spend most of the day with low energy levels and require caffeine to rev myself up (which would then lead to further spikes in my energy levels).
Now that I’m sleeping biphasically, this cycle is shattered. The first key is that I am always aware of what time I go to bed, and what time I need to get up in order to ensure that I get three full cycles of sleep (at 90 minutes a cycle, that is 4.5 hours). By doing this, I’m ensuring that I never have my alarm go off and wake me up in the middle of REM sleep, and this is the situation that leads to you feeling completely blindsided when that alarm goes off. Getting woken in your REM sleep is the worst thing that you can do, as it robs you of the most important part of your sleep, and precludes your body from going through it’s natural process of gradually coming out of that deep, deep slumber. Even if I stay up late, I don’t need to worry about sleeping in through my day; even if I don’t get into bed until 4:00AM, the latest I’m going to get up is 9:00 the next morning (allowing myself 30 minutes to fall asleep, and then 4.5 hours of actual sleep). I know this sounds ridiculous, but I actually feel like I’ve leveled up. Being in control of my sleep, and not the other way around, is amazing.
This is a significant discovery for me, and I think coming to this conclusion is enough reason for me to adopt and maintain this habit beyond the end of the experiment (which will be over in two more weeks).
Although initially I was concerned that having to nap would play havoc with my scheduling, it has not been an issue so far. So far I have been able to shift my nap as needed within about a four-hour window, which is quite a lot of leeway. I would not want to leave my nap much later than this, as I would start to feel a dip in energy (though probably less so than the middle of the day on a monophasic sleep schedule), and I would be pushing my nap and the next phase of my core sleep pretty close together. To really remain consistent, it is ideal to have your nap half-way between your previous and next core phases of sleep. I currently am not working (taking the time off to prepare for the Fall, when school will start), so I have the luxury of a fairly open schedule. I will have to see how and when I can fit napping into my schedule come the start of school, but unless there is something drastic preventing me from doing so, I will be aiming to maintain this new habit.
This marks the end of my first week of experimentation with biphasic sleeping, and the end of the first set of journaling. Although I had originally planned to publish the entire journal at the end of three weeks, this starting to reach a good length, and I think it makes more sense to publish on a weekly basis. I will continue to keep journals for the remaining two weeks, so keep it locked if you find this subject matter interesting.
Well, I’ve finished my last day at work. As a result of the fact that I’ve cleaned up all of my loose ends, I’m left with very little to do today – that will no doubt be a completely different story from my life a month from now.
The timeline for my last day was:
Last day of work:
8:00 Last day arriving at work
8:10 Pour last cup of coffee
8:30 Login and go through morning routine last time
9:30 Fill out timesheets for the last time ever
9:45 Last scrum at Refractions
10:00 Last coffee with Graham at work
1:15 Last JV lunch (while working at Refractions) downtown with Bay
3:30 Sent out goodbye e-mails to co-workers
3:45 Deleted archived e-mails from my computer
4:00 So long Refractions
While cleaning up my desk this week, I came across two of my logbooks that I had maintained when I first started.
I originally started maintaining a logbook when, during my first review, Paul Ramsey (the former president of Refractions, and someone for who I have a great deal of respect) mentioned that he noticed I worked better under pressure and when there was a lot on my plate. He recognized that that he too operated in this manner as well, but that something to work on would be to track what I was working on and to try and maintain a more consistent pace.
The logbook was my first attempt to do this, and really, my first attempt to begin any kind of system. About three years back, I realized that although I was now twenty-seven years old (thirty now!), with both a high-school and a university education, no one had ever taught me any kind of system for managing my tasks (really, for managing my life, both at work and at home). Before I even made this realization though, I knew that I wanted to pursue Paul’s advice.
The logbook was the first attempt to accomplish this. Looking through the book is a bit nostalgic: projects that I’ve long since forgotten, and that have long since died. Attempts at organization that I now recognize as convoluted and problematic. Lists of TODO items that remain unchecked to this day (did these ever actually get done?). Even with all of these flaws, I still recognize the value that these first attempts brought me. They provided me with a starting point. They set me down a path, and gave me a base from which I could start evolving my own system. You can never go for a run if you don’t take that first step, and that’s exactly what this book was.
I scanned in some representative pages from each month, along with an appendix that I had created at the back, so that you can see how I started progressing along the path towards a full-fledged system like GTD, and get a feel for the missteps that it’s okay to make as you attempt to get yourself organized (if you choose to). Let’s repeat that one more time – it’s okay to make mistakes. Take that first step!
The first two images are simply scans from the month of January and February. Although the domain and context of what I was working on isn’t relevant, you can see from the way I was taking notes that there was still much to be desired.
The first scan shows an action item at the bottom, but with nothing to differentiate it from the rest of my notes. How would I know at a glance that this is something that I have to act upon, versus something that I can just use as reference for later on? What about the state of this action item? Did I ever actually complete this task? Did I just neglect to complete this? Did it simply stop being necessary? There’s no way to tell what happened here. While I’m sure that I did in fact complete this item, you can see that it is important to create ways in your system that allow you to determine the answer to these questions quickly and at a glance. Otherwise we’re just taking up valuable mental cycles that could be devote to more valuable tasks.
Unfortunately, I only realized now that I scanned in the wrong pages from my appendix, so I no longer retain the code I used to mark up the pages. The main colour used were blue and green. Blue items indicated discussions I had with co-workers, while green items indicated useful information or knowledge to reference back to later. Orange indicated important TODO items. Whenever I had a page where I had created one of these items, I would colour the top or bottom corner (or both if I had multiple items on a page), allowing me to quickly determine if I had something that needed to be referenced on a given page.
This system quickly got out of hand, as it is impractical to flip through pages of a book trying to find the correct coloured corner that corresponds to a piece of information I need. There is no ability to categorize a given piece of reference information, as it sits forever on a page in the book. I have no folder that I can put the information in, and no ability to search through the book, other than sequentially flipping through each page. Obviously this system left a lot to be desired, but it was a starting point.
Once I started PMing projects, I moved away from a static book and to a system that was more focused on the GTD approach to managing tasks, using looseleaf paper, and folders to organize it.
That’s the end of my time spent PMing. Onwards to new challenges!
A friend and I were talking recently about GTD, and some of the difficulties he was having with his own implementation. The conversation we ended up having turned out to be a good primer on some additional GTD tips, so I thought I’d reproduce the conversation here (after anonymizing my friend’s input).
The initial discussion was about the difficulty of actually starting a project, even after you’ve come up with the next step for it. My first e-mail was a sample of what my own PROJECT folder looked like:
Adam Quiney wrote:
If you’re interested, here’s what my Project folder looks like
* Finish re-grouting bathtub
* NS: Get out grout and finish job
* Consolidate office supplies (don’t need second plastic tray device)
* Next step: Talk to Bay about this, and look through the two to see what we have
* Set up RTM
* NS: Read Lifehacker’s guide to RTM
* Change tagTrack script for iTunes, to allow replacing existing tags
* NS: Review code and determine where this is set
My friend wrote:
Nice set up. Here’s mine, and I encourage your criticism of the way I have it set up.
Start business – set up web site, talk to friend about his start-up
Return saw to dad – clean saw
Return clothes to friend – put them in squash bag
Clean and organize garage – clear out garbage
Closet doors – install hardware attachments
Finish flooring – measure and cut bathroom boarding
Baseboards – caulk trim
Learn to speak French fluently – any courses available through work?
Adam Quiney wrote:
It’s pretty well organized, and I notice that you use lists proper to GTD – Now, Soon, Later. I tried this originally, but it didn’t quite fit with me. Now, I just have a TODO list (included below) and a PROJECT list. The project list mostly has stuff that you’ve got under Now and Soon.
Your side-consulting business is a good project, but I would break that down further. The major project is "Start side business". There’s another project under that which is "Set up website". The next step for setting up the website is "Meet with Adam and talk about what is involved", and the _true_ next step for that item is "Get in touch with Adam, arrange meeting". I would track the projects under their own heading, and just move over the next steps when you think you are ready to work on them. That way your TODO list is much less daunting, and this will eliminate one of the passive barriers to getting stuff done – seeing _massive_ projects on your list just makes you not want to do them. Seeing "Get in touch with Adam and set up meeting" is an easy two-minute task involving an e-mail.
You can see that my TODO items don’t have next steps for them, because I usually only move a "next step" type item over to the TODO list. That way my TODO list only ever has small, easily digestable chunks of work on it.
You’ll notice I also have a "WAITING FOR" category on my list – that’s where I put anything that /was/ on my TODO list, that I’ve acted on, and am now waiting for something before I can pick it back up. Eg, your list would have under WAITING FOR: "Arrange meeting with Adam. WF: (Waiting for) Adam to get back to me".
Whenever I notice that something has sat on my list for a while and hasn’t gotten done, I re-examine it and ask "Why aren’t I doing this?". Sometimes the answer is "Because I don’t care about it" in which case I can just delete it and forget about it. Sometimes the answer is "Because it’s way too big", then I break it down further and replace thenext step on my todo list.
* Transfer music from External Drive to Mini and MacBook
* Prune Minibonsai
* Clear out voice memos
* Upgrade Quicksilver (on desktop)
* Update for Firefox
My friend wrote:
That’s great input.
I agree with you – the TODO of setting up a business isn’t sufficiently broken down by merely listing the two rather vague next steps I have beside it.
The notion of "setting up a web site" in itself isn’t sufficient, since that isn’t a task I can just sit down and complete without employing several other kinds of next steps you talked about. In addition, talking to my friend about how his business start up went also isn’t a great ‘next step.’ The appropriate one would really be ‘email him to meet for coffee.’ ‘Email Adam to set up meeting’, and ‘Email friend
to meet for coffee’ are both simple stress-less tasks that I could accomplish in minutes, but both would put me well on my way to accomplishing necessary steps in achieving important input required to
achieve my goal.
I like the notion of breaking things up into both a project list, and a todo list. I could throw ‘next steps’ onto my todo, with a more elaborate project by project break down in a separate list.
So that’s that. Talking this over, got me thinking about implementing contexts within my system, and so I sat down and set up exactly that in my TODO list. If anyone’s interested in hearing more about this, let me know. Otherwise it’ll be a post for another day.
I gave my notice three weeks ago. I had a week of vacation time left over, so I worked two weeks, had a week of vacation, and then will work one more week starting Monday. We had some money that I had been given for contract work that I’d done, and Bay got to go to Brazil this year, so we agreed that it would be cool for me to attend a dance camp being offered in Vancouver (for the first time ever).
The dance camp was called Get Down. Get Down represents a unique and rare opportunity: a chance to learn and train with the founders of some of the styles I’m into, such as popping and locking. Let me repeat that: the founders of those styles. It’s a little surreal being in class and having the teacher tell you “Now, this move is called the Romeo-twist, because my brother was wearing these shoes called Romeos, and we used to say ‘Yo, twist those Romeos!’”.
The instructors teaching are:
- Greg Campbellock Jr
- Greg did most of the choreography for the original lockers (back in the day when they were on Soul Train). You can see some of that original footage below. Cheesy? Yah, a little. But it’s also way funky.
- Popping Pete
- Popping Pete (who’s actually named Timothy) is Boogaloo Sam’s brother. Boogaloo Sam, created popping and boogaloo. Popping Pete has been heavily influential in the creation and evolution of those styles.
- Sugar Pop
- Sugar Pop is one of the members of the Electric Boogaloos, and someone who has come from the start of locking and popping to its current state.
- You can see Sugar Pop and Poppin Pete both getting down here (Mr. Wiggles is in grey, Sugar Pop is in brown, and Shonn Boog is in black and red):
- One of the founders of House dancing. You can watch Caleaf dancing here (sound quality is terrible):
So, now you’ve got an idea of the caliber of talent that we’ve been fortunate enough to train with. The best part is that all of these guys are really cool, and really good teachers. On the first day, I was a little worried.
Suga Pop went right into teaching us choreography, and I find that I generally prefer to learn technique so that I can then take that and use it in my own freestyle dancing. However, as the days have passed, I started to gain a real appreciation for the fact that all of these guys are really teaching us that what these styles are really about is dancing.
If you’re not dancing, you’re not doing the style, and it’s that simple. You can sit there and hit the hardest pops anyone has ever seen in their life, but if you aren’t dancing, it doesn’t matter – you’re holding the music hostage, and that’s not what it’s about. Dancing is a visual representation (and interpretation) of a given piece of music.
I’ve been reflecting on the experience over the course of the weekend whenever I find myself with a few spare cycles for thought. When I went into the camp, I had a set of expectations and thoughts about what it was that I needed to learn. I left the camp having learned something quite different, but far more valuable.
When the first couple of classes didn’t meet my initial expectations, I was a little bit disappointed. ”Why aren’t they teaching us technique?”, I thought to myself. Actually, they were teaching us technique — they were just doing it within the framework of teaching us to dance. You can’t have all technique and no dance, because that’s not…. dancing.
One of the things that Suga pop stressed a number of times was that popping is a style of dance that it is very easy to hide behind. What he meant is that it is very easy to use good technique in popping and simply do that without having any groove or dance behind it. Because of the illusions that the technique in popping creates, people watching will be dazzled, and the person can get away without actually doing any real dancing underneath.
The more we worked throughout the week, the more I realized I’ve been focusing on technique to the detriment of my ability to progress as a dancer. Only time will tell where the correct balance lies, but it’s certainly something for me to keep in mind.
Know your history
This week was a lot of history. I’ve always known a good amount of the history surrounding popping and locking, but none of that knowledge contained an understanding of the social dances that went into creating these styles. Every time we’d learn a new dance from hiphop’s roots (and often dances that I’ve seen people at weddings do (poorly) just for fun), sure enough, there’d be some element or technique in popping or locking that had integrated that original dance in some capacity.
Learning these original dances really helped provide a greater understanding of the context surrounding the styles that I love, and also provided a really solid foundation to grab onto whenever unsure of what to do next. Unsure of what your next move is? No problem, just drop down into the original dance and get back into the groove.
Find. Your. Groove.
This was really one of the biggest things we had hammered into us this week. Don’t go out there and dive into moves. Even though moves and tricks are cool, they can never be allowed to supercede just getting down.
It is challenging to articulate beyond these points. I suspect this is because it is fairly orthogonal to the way in which I’m used to being taught. The next couple of weeks will likely lead to a number of revelations on my part. The trickiest part about this experience has simply been that there was so much knowledge to absorb. You do your best to pick up everything, but it’s just impossible to fully retain all of the information passed my way. It’s even more difficult when I’m trying to parse that knowledge and understand what it means to me as both a dancer and a teacher.
Regardless of what I end up pulling away from the experience, I can absolutely attest to the fact that it has been one of the most significant periods of growth to date in my journey as a dancer. There’s really not much more that can top that, is there?