Archive for the 'GTD' Category

The art of the life hack

August 6, 2007

I read about life hacks all the time, but it’s taken me awhile to understand their full potential. Life hacks, quite literally, will change your life.

Let’s talk a bit about what a life hack is. A life hack is anything that can remove clutter from your life, help you be more productive, enable you to save/make money, or any combination of the above. The trick here is that it should be simple. If it’s not easy to implement, the chances of it making a sustainable impact in your life are slim. The idea is that a series of small steps lead to a better life, wherein you’re more fulfilled, successful, focused, and self-aware. Life hacks may come in the following flavors: productivity, minimalism, uncluttering, frugality, economy of effort/motion, or plain ol’ efficiency.

A few examples (some I’ve mentioned previously and some I haven’t):

  • Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero system (productivity, economy of effort, uncluttering)
  • LifeHacker editor Adam Pash’s Texter (economy of effort, efficiency)
  • Keyword launcher Launchy(efficiency)
  • Keeping a detailed project and task list with actionable, verb-centric items (productivity, uncluttering, efficiency)
  • Using Google Calender to track, share, and receive configurable reminders about your schedule (and you can even manage it via text message- how cool is that?) (productivity, uncluttering)
  • Subscribing to RSS feeds from sites like DealHack and Bargainist to find free or dramatically discounted stuff (AT&T & Amazon paid me $10.02 to take a new BlackBerry 8300 Curve) (frugality)
  • Paying your bills online manually or automatically instead of via snail mail or phone

Some excellent places to find life hacks

As a side note, the ultimate life hack is a good partner. This could be friend, relative, co-worker, spouse or all of the above (eww). Seriously, though, my girlfriend is a motivator, organizer, and co-financial planner. Plus, we’re very much alike despite the fact that we aren’t related. (Hey, I’m from Tennessee. I have to be clear about these things).

Stop tying your shoes

August 1, 2007

Well, don’t do it more than once, anyway.

Silly as it sounds, one of my greatest time savers has been this knot. Start using it and you can count on the fact that your shoelaces will never come untied until you’re darn good and ready for them to do so.

My co-workers think I’m left-handed

July 30, 2007

As I was explaining the virtues of left-handed mousing to one of our web designers, he replied, “Yeah, but I’m not left-handed”.

Well, neither am I. So why do I use the mouse with my left hand? 3 reasons, really:

  1. Ergonomics – Switching to my off-hand for possible RSI-inducing tasks helps reduce their impact. My right hand and wrist don’t bear the full brunt of 10-hour days of software development.
  2. Balance – Call me a nerd (because I am), but I like the idea of being equally adept at doing things with either hand. Sometimes I brush my teeth left-handed, use a fork left-handed, and shave the cats left-handed, too. Ok, made that last one up.
  3. Economy of motion – This one was a by-product. One of the first things I noticed when I started mousing left-handed is how much more efficient it is. Here’s why: think about the distance your right arm travels as you move from the mouse to your home keys (jkl;) and back again. Unless you’re doing ten-key often (and I hope you’re not – sorry, data entry folks), that’s wasted effort. Depending on the size and configuration of your keyboard, that’s an extra 4-6 inches of motion every time you switch. If that doesn’t sound like much, think about how many times you do that during the day. If you’re like me, it’s in the hundreds. But, with resources like Smashing Magazine’s 200+ Hotkeys To Boost Your Productivity, I’m getting better all the time.

Sure, it’s hard at first. You’ll notice certain shortcuts aren’t quite as accessible as they used to be and you won’t have as much coordination as you did. That’s ok – you’ll adapt and the coordination will come. And when it does, you’ll be impressed that you got used to it as quickly as you did.

I know I was.

Multi-task No More

July 29, 2007

What the following statement lacks in eloquence it makes up for in truth: Multi-tasking sucks.

For me, multi-tasking is equivalent to having many projects perpetually in various states of completion, none of which are actually complete. In today’s hectic world, what we used to refer to as a disorder known as ADD is now standard operating procedure. Most of us never really focus on anything. Right now, I’m not even focusing on this post. I’m looking out the window at 2 gentlemen pushing a large rear-projection TV on wheels down my street. And those guys aren’t focusing on what they’re doing, either. One of them is smoking a cigarette and the other is having a conversation on his cell phone. They’re multi-tasking. As soon as the guy finishes his cigarette, he’ll be able to mark “Smoke cigarette” off his To-Do list. How satisfying that’ll be for him! And I can only assume that the task of “Smoke cigarette” is right next to tasks such as “Eat trans fat” and “Drive too fast” under a project titled “Kill self”. Ok, time to refocus. . .

So why does multi-tasking suck?

  1. Task switching is bad. Joel Spolsky, of Joel on Software and in a book by the same name, explains that because task switches require overhead, performing tasks sequentially one after another will always yield higher productivity than tasks performed concurrently.

    In fact, the real lesson from all this is that you should never let people work on more than one thing at once. Make sure they know what it is. Good managers see their responsibility as removing obstacles so that people can focus on one thing and really get it done.

    While Spolsky is referring specifically to programmers and management in his article, his concepts directly translate to your personal life. Believe it. If something must get done, don’t try to add it to what you’re already doing. Give it the time it deserves. Give it the focus it deserves.

  2. Multi-tasking = multi-distracting. Checking email while you’re working? Helping co-workers while trying to make headway on a project? I’ve found that email, co-workers, the boss – pretty much any sort of interruption – can be paralysis while I’m at the office and if I expect to get much done, I’ve got to learn to deal with a steady in-flux of demands for attention.
  3. Merlin Mann of 43folders asserts that multi-tasking is a myth and also advocates processing your email once an hour and keeping a very simple system for doing so. His recent talk at Google comes highly recommended.

    While not everyone can do this, I’ve started scheduling blocks of my calendar for actual development. Since my job is development, I know that sounds tantamount to scheduling myself to work while I’m at work. Kinda dumb, right? However, the simple process of scheduling that time for development projects and receiving associated reminders via Outlook that essentially say, “hey! it’s time to work now”, is making a positive difference in my workday.

Speaking of getting things done, David Allen’s GTD system (and its variations) are worth looking into. No, I haven’t read the book, but it’s on my list. From what I’ve read around the ‘net, I’ve begun doing something similar to Allen’s GTD.

So yeah. Stop multi-tasking and find something to do!