December 9, 2007

Polder Timer- Time Crutch for the Timeless…

Posted in GTD, Lifehacks, Procrastination, Productivity, Work at 9:14 pm by a11en

I’ve been meaning to blog about something that sits on my belt these days… in fact, I’ve become somewhat lost if I don’t feel it by my side. I don’t use it all the time… um, excuse me… time, in fact, is the subject matter of today’s blog post.

I’m slowly coming to a realization and sadness that time just doesn’t wait for anyone. Not even me. You see, I used to think that time would do my bidding. But, in fact, each day I grow older, there is a new grey-hair, and my time for a future family dwindles. Each week spent not focused on my work towards my Thesis and my PhD degree becomes one more week of stagnation and lack of progress towards a happier future. Unfortunately, as everyone who knows me will tell you, time and I just don’t get along. There was one thing I was early for in my life, and that was my birth. After that, I guess, I’ve been trying to make up for it.

I have another small confession to make. Often the reason I’m late is because of my love of what I’m doing at the time. You see, I spend so much of my effort and focus in “The Now” that I literally forget about the “little after now”… which ultimately will become “the now” but apparently I’m not ready for it when it does. That could be because I’m having a deep and interesting discussion about research work with one of my co-workers, and I realize I’m 5 minutes late for my time on a microscope, or it could be because I need my morning coffee “just right”, and I know it takes about 5 minutes to steep. But, what I do know, is I’m passionate and empathic about my current time. I see this as an advantage, but realize that on the other side of “now” it’s a disadvantage.

So, what can I do? What in the world is someone who lives a life bucking Father Time for all eternity to do? Aside from some serious advances in physics and anti-matter, I have to say, I’ve turned to a crutch.

Enter the Polder Timer stage left…

This is the little fellow who’s constantly at my side these days. It isn’t perfect, it isn’t beautiful, and it’s been busted at least once already. What are the things I love about it? How do I use it? Does it work for me?

What I love about it:

The multi-function timer is excellent. The feature which is killer for me is the vibrating feature. The reason for this, is that it’s relatively quiet, but when the timer is on your belt (in your pocket you’ll likely hit one of the buttons) it quietly alarms at your side. One can’t really use a normal timer when dealing with coworkers or technicians etc., and have it sitting there ticking away during your conversation and finally the saxon sounds blaringly loud! Insanity.

(How I use it: )

A little bzzzzzzt on your belt is easily managed. Going to visit an old friend for work, but you can easily get into a 1 hour conversation about life and you have a ton to achieve that afternoon? Before entering his office, set the timer to half-hour.. 15-20 minutes of work talk, 10 minutes of fun-talk. Let him know you have to go at xxx time, and then talk away. It will suck when it buzzes, but honestly, if you’re polite about it, and let him know you’ll return soon, I’m sure it will go well. It can be done relatively incognito also, so the conversation need not end immediately after the buzz. Not to mention you always have the ability to make conscious decisions about your time (Covey) when it’s required. Did he tell you a doozey? His dog just died last night? You can reschedule your next meeting if it’s important to your friendship.

What this timer allows me to do, is manage time and allow my brain to roam free (until the buzz) as it usually does. Instead, it is brought back to earth when I want it to be (my setting on the timer). This is a wonderful wonderful thing. An example… the EDS on the Scanning Electron Microscope needs like 2 minutes to get it’s job done, and the darned machine that runs it has no sound (ugh windows)… set your timer for 2 minutes, read your journal article, bzztt… EDS is done, get back to the SEM. :) Works like a freakin’ charm. I use it like that all day. Need to check on the growth-chamber and check it’s vacuum before growth? 5 minutes degass, 5 minutes off, measure, etc. I can go back to my desk sure that I’ll be reminded of when to check the gauge.

I also use it to do dashes of work when I’m not in front of my computer… 15 minutes of focused work, 5 min. break etc., (or 2 min. but I always eek out more break).

Of course the timer also has a visual cue (blinking red-light on the top you can set if you want), as well as a nice loud buzzer as needed. In the dark, the visual cue is nice, can set the timer down and not disturb SWMBO’d.

What I don’t like:

The belt clip that came with it was busted within the first week. I liked that it had a clip, stand, and magnet on it… but it was too weak. What did I do to solve the problem? For about a week I tried to use it in my pocket, but I always touched the buttons, etc., and it was a pain… so I scoured around various stores to find a cheap stick-on cell-phone clip replacement. Found one, gorilla-glued it on the back, and now I have an excellent clip to hold it to my belt. I’ve got plans to add the old magnet to the clip, but haven’t yet. It’s much easier to clip and unclip now that I’ve replaced the belt-clip. :)

Also, unfortunately, there is little to no memory. That means I set the darned thing all the time. This isn’t so bad, but a few memories would really make work-dashes much easier.

Counting stops at the alarm. I’d much rather it continue on. So, if I set it for 5 minutes, for some reason I miss it, how long did I miss it for? When was that buzzer going? I’d love to know if I missed it by half a minute, or by 20 minutes! No such luck. You can count up from zero, you can count down from X, but you can’t count up from zero after counting down from X. Kinda sucks.
But… the price is right. Nice and cheap, and the killer apps (vibrating and light alarm) are very worth the price. (Even with added new belt-clip.)

The stigma:

I took it on my chin for about a month with SWMBO’d… I got crap like: “Oh, whatcha going to do, time how long dinner takes?” … (while heading to the bathroom one night)… “Oh, whatcha going to do, time how long it takes you to SH… (ave)”? ;) [I added the ave]… Oh, she’s a cad alright. Real cad. Real funny gal. But, my timer is still on my belt, and it’s still helping me work. So, if you can live past the joshing you’ll take, you might just fine that a crutch like a timer will really help your timelessness.

Coming from a serious space-case and procrastinator extraordinaire, it’s certainly helped me.

(Oh, BTW, just for the record, Grace Kelly was so damned hot. I just had to let that out. Hell, if I was a King, I’d have married her. Holy crap. (TCM on tonight.))

February 20, 2007

Feynman on lack of knowledge…

Posted in Lifehacks, Work at 2:35 am by a11en

Another quick post.  Those of you who know me, may know that I love Feynman’s crazy antics.  I should have suspected he was as deep a thinker as Bohr.  I have blogged in the past about lack of knowledge, and also shared some thoughts with a new graduate student in our group.  Fiore (The Now Habit) also has some thoughts about the lack of knowledge and procrastination.  I’m seeing some synergy here, so I wanted to share it.  Fiore’s basic idea is that at the beginning of a work (and I’ll leave “work” very loose here), we lack knowledge.  One can be scared away from the work because of the lack of knowledge… self-doubt about one’s ability to do the work will arise.  It is important to know that at the beginning of anything, we will lack appropriate knowledge… as we tackle the tasks at hand, we will learn, and accomplish more, and accomplish more, faster.  In fact, lacking “the knowledge”, as you so aptly state to yourself, is an indication that you are in no position to determine if you can finish the project or not- without jumping in, learning, working, and doing that project.  :)  As you learn and do, so will your knowledge gain, and so will you finish the project at hand.

Feynman discusses the importance of lack of knowledge… “I can live with doubt and uncertainty…”  “I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong.”  And finally: “He once defined science as belief in ignorance of experts.”  That last one caused me to laugh.  (As will it likely to any PhD student.)  In fact, he mentioned, it’s much more important to know you are ignorant… that way you can correct the problem.  :)  These quotes are taken from Perfectly Reasonable Deviations, Michelle, Feynman.

I’d like to explain that this is true on many levels… For science as whole, work in the darker areas of our understanding is the only place to accomplish a new understanding and bring to light discovery.  For a personal understanding- those dark areas that you are afraid of, are the only areas you can work to push your knowledge base, to increase your chances of discovery for yourself!  Those areas you’re afraid of, aren’t so scary when you look hard for answers, dig further, contact people who understand those areas.  This is the trick for a student, for a learning person in any walk of life.  If you know where you don’t know something, that’s where you know you must work.  Only then, can you increase your knowledge.

So, lack of knowledge is important.  It defines our areas of discovery.  Not only that, if we come to these areas of darkness with an open mind (skeptical of experts as Feynman would want us to be), we are the Po’ the unformed block… capable of understanding new things perhaps even better than the experts do, because we see them in a new light for the first time.

So, being scared of the unknown is exactly what you *don’t* want to be if you want to achieve new discoveries and achieve personal growth in your own knowledge.  Scared of math?  I bet if you dig hard there, you’ll discover new things… with an anxious mind for exciting discovery, you may just enjoy yourself!  :)

December 20, 2006

3×5’s As A Capture Tool…

Posted in GTD, Lifehacks at 8:52 am by a11en

Merlin today has a great post that you may have noticed a while ago at Lifehacker about Merl Reagle’s capture tools. Merl is the creator of the Old Grey Lady‘s Cross-word Puzzles. [Regardless of what you think of the NYTimes, you must respect a puzzle-maker. ;) ]

Merl uses soft reporter books as well as 3×5’s or perhaps they’re 4×6’s as a capture tool. He explains how he’ll get inspirations at the oddest moments and doesn’t want to loose those inspirations by forgetting to jot them down. Hence, the need for an anytime-anywhere capture tool. Enter the hPDA.

What is interesting to me about the lowly 3×5 is that it seems that every old guy I meet has a stack of these in their breast-pocket. My landlord, great guy BTW, always has a stack in his pocket, as well as some more in his minivan. Frequently he can be seen rummaging through them to find a piece of info he needs. I even had a professor give me the suggestion that I needed some place to jot down notes/organize myself, and out popped a pen and a 3×5 stack. He saw me smile, and I don’t know if he know why I did or not, but already in my backpocket was my Levenger Ballistic Shirt Pocket briefcase with a set of 3×5’s already in place. I was tempted to ask: “Do you know GTD?” ;) I doubt he did, but one thing is for sure, he’s successful and my guess is his 3×5’s get good use. [Another kind fellow, BTW.] Aside:Holy Cow- the BSPB is no longer available at Levenger. EEEK. The world has stopped spinning? Their leather versions are nice, but they are missing a third pocket.

The thing that intrigues me about the 3×5’s is what in particular makes them easy to use? Personally, I think it’s the ease of the search/sort ability, as well as the size. That probably boils it down right there. Now, while I like the hPDA, I don’t print out many cards myself, mainly because it takes time. I just can’t bring myself to print my own card blanks. I can however snag 10 off the blank stack and shove them in the middle of my briefcase. But, I think that there are some issues with the 3×5’s, and potentially all paper capture tools that are inherently difficult.

The one section of that talk with Merl that I’d love to have seen, is how in the world does he use his captured thoughts? In the video snippet, we hear Merl talk about a particular puzzle he didn’t use for years. Looking at the captured thoughts and their seemingly randomness (it’s ok, mine are often random), I practically screamed at the video: “And then what?! And then what?!” How do you use those stacks? My theory? Like many musicians, when inspiration is needed they go back to a pretty disorganized slew of notes. Rummage in there, and out pops inspiration. A huge tickler/inspiration file. Not particularly an organized ordered “need to do this:” type stack. A slew of ideas jotted down for future work.

I found this next step to be the critical pathway to an idea which either stays an idea, gets lost in the stack of ideas (for me ideas are a dime a dozen at times), or gets acted upon. This is where the physical capture tool of the 3×5 starts to break down. Organization and subsequent use. Those 3×5’s are good for a day, perhaps a week… but then, what happens? How do *you* use them?

What I’ve tended to do, and it’s not working so well right now (a need to redo this process is much needed- but must wait until this Christmas break), is to peruse these cards for data every week or so. I also keep a running “Inbox” 3×5 card which gets filled slowly from top to bottom with action items. These Inbox cards get looked at with high frequency, as well as get combined/whittled down about once a week.

Now, this works to some extent, but there are some serious flaws in it. For one, the tasks aren’t put into context as they should be at this present time… they’re not that bad, but they’re just glorified ToDo lists at the moment. The primary reason this is the case, is that the 3×5’s are easy to use, but not easy to organize. Not to mention they’re not easy to search contextually like on a computer. I’ve heard some folks have luck scanning in all their 3×5’s and using meta tags etc., to help them locate info on them. Wonderful idea, I may try it sometime, but wow- what a lot of work.

So, if you use 3×5’s, and if you have similar problems, or want to share how you overcome them, let me know below in the comments. I’d love to chat about this more, time allowing. Either the end of the 3×5’s usefulness, or the lo-fi/hi-fi disconnection are also wonderful discussion points.

Finally, a comment about the venerable notebook. I love blank notebooks. Lordy do I have enough of them. ;) Being a fountain-pen user, I tend towards the soft-back Miquelrius notebook. I’m intrigued right now by the cloth-bound Clairfontaines, and hope to have a few purchased soon. Smythson is also intirguing due to their feather-weight paper and fountain-pen friendly quality- but, well, I’d have to sell a small kingdom to buy them, and honestly, I suspect that their product is priced mostly because it’s a new “fashion” accessory these days. Somewhat like Burberry’s fall from outdoorman’s fame with the adoption of the Chav-hat. Hell, Burberry used to outfit Shackleton and Amundsen. Anyways, I digress… The benefit of a notebook is that it keeps everything in order. You could imagine a big table-of-contents at the beginning of the notebook and numbered pages marking each important thought upon weekly review. This to me screams future usefulness. Perhaps I’d only need to input my table-of-contents for each book I have and search this when I’m looking for info. I guess a similar approach could be done with 3×5’s, but the very nature of them mean that they are very very easy to disorganize. [BTW, I’m quite gifted at that last word.] Problem with the notebook- 1) too thick to keep in the back-pocket, 2) brain-farts carry equal worth to nobel prize winners, 3) inability to pitch/sort/organize on the fly- inboxes inside notebook generally require constant re-writing, 4) same issues with action sorting into contexts as 3×5’s.

Interesting stuff none-the-less. Almost every old guy I meet (I’m fast becoming one) has a stack of 3×5’s surrounded by a rubber band and a pencil/pen hanging out somewhere on him. I think this shows that this method of capture spans the generations and is inherently useful. I’m intrigued by the possible breakdown of use of these tools on a higher organizational level much like the disconnection between ToDo’s and NextActionContext lists. But, in the end, it’s about being able to put pen to paper anywhere you are. For that, the 3×5 has been a God-send.

Here’s wishing you a fantastic Christmas! Perhaps Santa will have a stack of 3×5’s under the tree for you! ;)

A little gem I just found:  Merlin as “That Phone Guy”

October 31, 2006

Scientific Advancement (quick thoughts)…

Posted in Lifehacks, Work at 8:58 pm by a11en

Some very quick thoughts for tonight as I try to polish up some work for my Prof.

All scientific advancement is born out of lack of understanding. In the darkness of the unkown, and little-known, and very difficult to know- we seek around… as blind-men, in an attempt to find our way. [In the scary blackness- I might add.] A priori, we won’t know what we’ll find. Our knowledge will be stretched- may be questioned at all ends- and somewhere, we will find something new.

In this lack of knowledge, we must be content not to know. At least, we must accept the benefits of not knowing for the first time- the “child-like” state of first-discovery. In this state, without our notions of what “is”, we can find truly new ways of looking at our problems. Like a child’s first snow-fall. The unkown can be fun to experience- and our lack of knowledge is a pre-requisite for this.

Not knowing is sometimes the best position to be in. We will gain our first perfect vision of what we find- our first joyous experience of that snowfall in that first moment of experiencing the unknown.

This is why the “child-like” state of the “uncarved block” is lauded- only in this condition can we purely and simplistically experience these unknowns. Only in this state will we be free to form our thoughts about this experience without preconceived notions of what “must be”.

This is very difficult for a scientist. As a scientist is expected to know the answers. If he’s willing to be honest, often, he has no clue about the answers. He can give you some good guesses, and he should be able to give you very good informed guesses when the time comes… but scientists who are truly discovering, are working at the edge of their understanding.  I humbly submit, that even if his knowledge is not perfect, to him, he will be discovering.  In that state of imperfect knowledge, discovery will fall on him like cold stars of varied shape and size… if he’s smart… he’ll stick out his tongue…

June 10, 2006

Procrastination- Article, Synchronicity and Thoughts…

Posted in GTD, Lifehacks, Procrastination at 2:37 pm by a11en

This post has been a long time coming. I did a little here and there time allowing. Hopefully this will help (you and me).

Article: Surfing through LifeHacker today I found -this- article on procrastination from Psychology Today. Below are some bullets itemizing the things that resonated with me regarding their article on procrastination. (Please note a number of the following are shortened paraphrases.):

  • There’s a major difference between people who merely delay tasks and people who are true procrastinators- “procrastinators put off everything, at home, at work and in their social life”
  • Procrastinators put off doing high-priority tasks because they are under a delusion that tomorrow the task will in some way get better. I’ve noticed that this doesn’t necessarily need to be a conscious delusion, but the decision is definitely a conscious one.
  • Procrastinators often have some level of perfectionism which may negatively feed their procrastination.
  • They prefer to have someone say they lack effort rather than lack ability.
  • Often the situation is self-feeding: “the stress and guilt of perpetual postponement are themselves incapacitating”

Synchronicity: As well, there are things that resonate with other areas of reading. Here are items of synchronicity that I’m finding amongst many sources (M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Travelled, Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits, Article from Psychology Today, etc.):

  • Procrastination is not laziness.
  • Procrastination is not an issue with Time-Management!!
  • Procrastination is an issue with delayed gratification.
  • Procrastinators make a conscious decision to put off short-term pain.
  • The pain envisioned, the real reason for the delay, is given undue weight and possibly is unfounded. Often the procrastinator will also find that once the tasks are started, the pain is quite less intense than at first thought, if there is pain in accomplishing the task at all.
  • Basically, the painful task is pushed off until another time (short-term pain avoidance) and is replaced by tasks which are not viewed as painful (short-term pleasure acceptance). This generally produces longer-term pain due to the task avoidance and sense of guilt/adverse effects in work and relationships.
  • Procrastinators should know that this issue is within their sphere of influence. How they respond to the situations before them will affect their outcome. They need to accept this problem as their own, and work to solve the issue. Realize the reality that life includes semi-painful, semi-disliked tasks. To accomplish a task, it need not be liked.
  • Often an agreed upon time to work on a task only briefly will overcome the mental hurdle. The “dash“, “10-minute rule” or “(10+2)x5” will often alleviate the burden of a long and arduous task. Anyone can do something for only 10-minutes after-all… what a procrastinator often finds, is the mental fear and burden is lifted within 5-10 minutes of starting a task, and that he may end up working much longer on the task at hand, unbeknown-st to him.

Thoughts: Today’s world makes procrastination easy. Most of us are juggling a bazillion tasks, both large and small. It’s likely very easy for all of us to task-prioritize in a very poor way, in essence, supporting our procrastination. The smaller less important tasks often will be done because the larger scarier tasks will be hard to approach. Our mental fears about these larger important tasks are what hold us back. Often we are more than capable of handling the tasks (especially in small pieces), but we, for whatever reason, don’t see the results of our tackling the tasks in a positive light. We only see the negatives and often we make them appear larger than they really are. [Squash those negative thought-patterns! via Steve Pavlina.] As well, the burden of our procrastination follows us around, and kicks us when we’re down… it says: “See, I told you you couldn’t do it!” and on it goes… In fact, direct confrontation by others of my procrastination, for me, often ends up in even more malaise towards the task(s) at hand and is often counter-productive. Knowing that things are waiting on the task to be completed I feel is critical, however, as the procrastinator should know that others are depending on him to complete the tasks at hand in a timely manner. It’s the soft-mallet approach… a bit of a knock on the noggin but pad it with a soft pillow. ;) Affirming the ability of the procrastinator and showing enthusiasm towards receiving the finished work may also help motivate. Since the procrastinator is already negative, often more negativism merely feeds that delay-spiral. [Wow, this is sounding a bit like a different form of depression, actually- I’ll have to think more about that.]

I also feel that to some large degree, procrastinators aren’t very honest with themselves or are at least are a bit naïve when it comes to the realities of life. For me, the big reality that hits me very hard in the face almost every day: There are not enough hours in the day, and invariably I never get as much done as I really wished I did. Most likely that’s the perfectionist in me talking, bringing me down, but, to some degree it’s really true. If I spend all my time searching for current literature on Morgellon’s disease, or Jungian Psychology, and not on my preliminary exam papers and talk, then when the evening hits, I’m gonna find that I know more about Morgellon’s and Jung, and ultimately less about my prelim talk and paper. :( A sad fact of life, really. As well, our perception of time can be described as a time integral normalized by our total lifespan. So, as we get older, it appears as though the hours get shorter and shorter… the days speed by, and the weeks and months are slowly speeding up. If we don’t stay focused on our important (and often large) tasks, we can easily find them slipping through our fingers.

David Allen’s Getting Things Done may help procrastinators in a few ways. For me, I found it did a number of things. First, let’s pause- and be honest here: This is something internal to our psyche and it is a difficulty we have to work through on our own. Second, our environment and how we handle things can help or hurt. GTD has helped me to see all the tasks before me laid out in the areas they can be accomplished and in the projects that need to get done. So, no longer do I have to mentally remember these items. As well, our brains are quick at running through the procrastinator’s devices, so often when we think about a large task, it gets shoved to the back of our mental list. With GTD, at least the lists and tasks are out in the open where we can choose to be honest about them. Any aspect of our organizational world that is slightly frustrating (like say huge piles of things on the desk) are of course difficult to get organized and done. D.Allen’s GTD system helps us to have a methodology (a slight mental crutch) with which to organize and deal with these large piles of “stuff.” Doing so, at least removes 1 task from our list- namely getting rid of our piles of stuff, but also stream-lines the other things we have to do- review our tasks and projects and have our materials at our fingertips when they’re needed. As well, large ToDo tasks which merely hint to us the enormity of actual actions included in the task will merely hinder our ability to move forward. If we see a large task that we know has many levels to it, we are likely to stand back in fear of it and put it off until a future date. So, dissect those ToDo’s and place actual single-step actions in your action lists. For the procrastinator, this is gold. It’s a smaller task that can be accomplished and it’ll help move forward the large project which looms over your head [i.e., The Monster].

And finally, I found a research group in Ottawa who has some excellent info about procrastination: Procrastination Research Group and their Podcasts. As well, there is actually a dissertation podcast that I haven’t yet listened to.

April 10, 2006

Roomba = Awesome!

Posted in FountainPens, GTD, Lifehacks at 6:33 pm by a11en

So, here's the essence of my wacked weekend. I'm sitting on the phone, talking with my GF and then briefly my pal Steve… I'm getting ready to refill my Pelikan m100 fountain-pen (love the thing), and my elbow hits the opened ink-jar, and I'm freakin' toast. Yes, Blue-black ink everywhere. Everywhere. UGH! I'm shocked. So, instead of having a productive evening working half on work and half with my pal Steve and my GF, I'm stuck going between all three faucets in the apt. soaking up ink, and rinsing out old towels. That took some serious time. I'm still hurting from all the work. And it's *mostly* up. Thank goodness I told my apt. guys not to worry about replacing the carpet before I moved in! <whew>

So, in the midst of my pain, my GF finally understands just how much ink I'm talking about… and I tell her to go check out how much the Bissels cost at Khol's. She finds them for a good price, and we talk about it a bit- she goes ahead and buys the "Spot Bot". So, we spend another 4 hours cleaning the carpet with this thing (pretty much just a glorified Little Green Clean Machine). Fun. So, with most of it finally up, we start to use the Bot feature. Drop the thing centered on a spot, and the brushes and vacuum does the job for you. No bending over, no dorkin with the thing for hours on end, it just works. :) I'm talking with my pal Steve in the other room (explaining why I couldn't come out) and cleaning the carpet at the same darned time. Amazed. I do it like 20 more times… fully realizing that my bending over and back-pain can be avoided. :) <yeah!>

So, that gets me thinking. If I enjoy pressing a button and cleaning my spots of my carpet so darned much, why the heck don't I check out other automated things. [In the back of my mind always loving those darned vacuum-robots I remember from a long time ago.] It hits me- no more freakin' vacuuming. [Which I'm only sporadically good at doing anyway.] On top of it, if it actually saves me time and keeps my apt. cleaner, my GF is all the more happy. <And the villagers rejoiced.>

Granted, that this might be the silliest use of my money (when I could be buying say a Dunhill Bruyere that has georgeous grain for the same price – yes grain, I know, it's not supposed to have good grain)… but, well, I took the plunge. Picked up the Roomba Discovery and headed to leave. Ontop of this, we get to the checkout and bammo- 20% off with a little scratch card at Kohl's. Too bad we didn't get the 30% off, but that 20% pretty much cinched the deal for me, with the thing already being like 30% off.

We tried the thing out at Chel's- worked like a charm (and she's a clean freak). The cats were a bit weirded out by it, but really didn't mind much… it moves slowly, and is low to the ground. I think they realized it wasn't doing anything sneaky but bumping into walls and furniture, and that seemed to help them chill a bit. Then, this morning, I dragged it over to my place (it's real home), and just got done cleaning up my apartment while I was finishing up various bathroom duties. Lordy does this thing save me time and effort! My floor looks excellent. I plan on using it for a few days straight here, as my apartment could really really use it.

Just between you and me, I tended to not care too much about cleaning etc. I mean, hell, I'm mostly just at home to sleep anyway. To top it off I have 2x the normal load of work, and I'm so behind I'm fearing for my degree. Very scary. So, when something like the Roomba comes along and helps me to save time and clean up for me, hell, it's amazing!!

Three Cheers for the Roomba!!

To me, this post is a bit Lifehacky and GTD… I all of a sudden have more time, 'cause the darned robot is doing the work for me! Woo hoo!! :)

March 28, 2006

GTD meets Covey meets M. Scott Peck…

Posted in GTD, Lifehacks at 1:59 am by a11en

Ok, I’m back. Positive work meeting. Too bad Gmail is down, otherwise my day would be decent. Not excellent, just decent. Too much work overhead that is risking to fall on my head to be good. ;) So, I must continue dilligently.

But, I promised some short thoughts on the meeting of three major systems. Getting Things Done by David Allen, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Travelled.

First, GTD:

GTD is excellent. I highly recommend it to everyone. What I’ve noticed is that it’s excellent at helping you to actually *do* things you want to do. In other words, it helps you to organize your day to day life. The little tasks that are cluttering your brain, making you remember things in the middle of the day, or while you’re out with your girlfriend enjoying the evening. All of a sudden <<kapow>> you remember a major item you needed to accomplish by tomorrow or the next day… things that need to get done. Doesn’t do you a lick of good as you’re out with the girl… but would have helped a crapload when you were at your desk. Well, enter GTD. For everyone who wanted to know how to get things done, this is the book.

Golden nuggets from GTD:

  • -almost too numerous to list here-
  • The concept of actual “next actions”. Your to do list is ineffective if you don’t have actual physical actions listed. For instance- buy a particular book. Your actual first action may be to research the going price online. You won’t get this bit done, unless you put down that actual task. You’ll think to yourself: Oh hell, I can’t get that done right now, I have to get online, check the price at Amazon, then at Barnes and Nobels, then at Abes books… it goes on and on. So, put *actual actions* on your to do lists.
  • The concept of “Contexts” A to do list for groceries and hardware supplies does you no darned good at the office, and vice-versa. So, make your lists have contexts. Find yourself out and about? Pull out your errands list. Find yourself online? Pull out your online list.
  • The concept of an InBox and the concept of filtering your crap. You want to throw out stuff that doesn’t need to get done, or archive it if it needs to be kept… then you want to put new stuff on your inbox when it comes in.. secure in knowing you’re going to go through looking at them again soon, and putting them on your appropriate to do lists.
  • Ok, I need to stop here.. just go out and freakin’ buy the thing…

Second, Seven Habits:

I think Covey was such a major advancement in personal management, that it has sort of become old news. I hate to say it, but when there are college courses surrounding a productivity book, it’s likely that is the case. For everyone who had to struggle through it in college, take that book back out when all hell is breaking loose and you think you’re getting no where in your life. It’ll all start to make sense when you work through it yourself. People who throw the baby out with the bathwater will want to throw out Covey’s concepts of Roles, and larger-life-management. This is a mistake. Covey helps you to think about what wall you’re putting your ladder against to climb. Does you no good to climb that wall unless it’s the right one. It does, however, only really give you a taste-test of how to get things done in your day-to-day. People who read the chapter “First Things First” or the book entitled the same, will understand what I mean. Looks nice, nice concepts, but hell, doing it, is a whole other ball-game. I played with it for months on end, and never ever got it working. [Caveat- I’m a disorganized fool. My good pal Pankaj actually got it working just great- infact, he swears I helped him accomplish his work ’cause I told him about Covey. :) Well, at least I do someone else good even if I’m not doing myself good. ;) ha ha ha… grr…]

The golden nuggets in Covey:

  • The concept of roles in life: Are you forwarding all areas of your life, or are you only focused on one area to the detriment of al else? If so, you will be soon (if not already) realizing that your life is missing something, and ultimately you’ll feel like you’re spinning your wheels. The answer to this, is to think hard about all the major roles in your life, and where you want each one to head. Then, you must think about these roles at least once during your week, if not your day. This will help you to accomplish at least 1 thing in each role each week. You’ll notice your whole life moving forward, not just that one little area you’ve been focusing on.
  • The concept of the Four Quandrants: This is a classic. Draw a big plus sign on a piece of paper. Now, put a box around it- that’s a small grid. Good. Now, from right to left, put a big I, II, next line, III, IV in the squares. Ok. Now, we’re going to name the rows and columns. First Column. Get’s the name: Important, the second: Unimportant. The first row, gets the name: Urgent, the second row gets the name: Not urgent. Ok, good. Now, this is a breakdown of everything you do in your day. The IInd Quadrant tasks are where you always want to operate. These are important but not urgent items. [If they are left alone, they’ll become urgent and burn a hole through your desk.] The imporant and urgent items are already hurting you… the fire-bells are ringing… most likely you left these a bit late? Finally, quadrant III items are really just not important… answering that phone that keeps ringing left and right, or that e-mail that keeps coming in. Most of those are gonna be urgent, but really not important. They’ll steal time away from the important things. And finally, quadrant IV will just waste your time all around. Not urgent, not important = dorking off.
  • Sharpening the saw: You can’t cut any trees if you don’t stop cutting, sharpen that saw of yours, and start cutting again. Weekly destressing and relaxation are critical to your wellbeing.
  • Roles: Are you neglecting a major aspect of your life that’s important to you?
  • Circle of Influence: The basic concept here, is that there’s no reason fretting or spinning your wheels about things which are outside of your circle of influence. Not a member of the team that’s screwing something up? Does it do you any good to fret about it? You can’t do anything about it. Global Warming? Seriously, folks, if all of you who are helping the globe warm up, could please come over to central-Illinois, I’d really appreciate it. I’m ready for some good weather. What? You don’t have that much of an effect? Then stop freakin’ worrying and spinning your wheels, my friend. It’s out of your circle of influence. Always working within your circle of influence will keep you moving forward, and prevent you from wasting your time.

Third, The Road Less Travelled:

This book so far is absolutely fantastic. It has in the short space of 3 or 4 chapters completely explained my procrastination. It’s amazing. Ultimately, it explains my problem is *not* with time-management. Ha! Yeah right!… no no, he’s right. It’s all about Delaying Gratification. It’s so true. What it boils down to, is making the choice for short-term pain so that the long-run I can enjoy longer term pleasure. If I delay my short-term pain (the things that need to get done), I ultimately choose short-term pleasure, and gain longer-term pain. It’s the absolute freakin’ truth. I put off the short-term work, and I gain the pain and horror of things hanging over my head for long periods of time. As well, I get only short-term pleasure… stupid web-surfing, stupid TV show watching, whatever it is. If it’s something I’m putting in place of my real work (and not sharpening the saw), I ultimately am not enjoying it as well (I know I should be doing something else), and I’m gaining only short-term pleasure. As well, until I own up to the fact that this is *my* problem, and something *I* need to fix myself… I can easily throw it on the environment I’m in, my coworkers, my boss, whatever. That’s a character disorder right there… if I’m not willing to realize I have fault here.

Golden nuggets from the first 10 little chapters:

  • Delayed gratification is a method for scheduling the pain upfront, so as to increase the pleasure by getting the pain over with first.
  • Many people just simply don’t take the time (the short term pain) to solve life’s intellectual, social, or spiritual problems. Often when you do take the time, you realize you *can* do it. It’s not some deficiency of yours. Expend the effort, you can accomplish what you feel you couldn’t.
  • “Problems do not go away. They must be worked through or else they remain, forever a barrier to the growth and development of the spirit.”
  • Ignoring problem is simply due to the inability to delay gratification.
  • It *is* your problem. “This is my problem and it’s up to me to solve it.”

Bringing it all together:

Ok, so to bring it all together. Covey helps you to understand the major areas of your life you wish to do things in, and helps you to think about what you want to accomplish in them in the long run. He explains the concept of important, unimportant, urgent, not-urgent tasks, and which areas to work in. He helps you to see that you should only be concerned ultimately with your circle of influence (which includes yourself and your emotional responses to things that are outside your influence), and helps you to see that you need to keep the important things (first things) first. David Allen helps you to take those things that you are trying to get done, organize them in such a way that you have actual actions to work on, and know when and where to work on them, or what to do with them if you don’t know where they should go. He helps you to get them the heck out of your mind, so they stop bugging you all the time while you’re trying to do your work. He is your day-to-day trust it like a rock, system. And finally, M.Scott Peck highlights the fact that you aren’t an idiot, if you spend time on the item at hand that’s difficult, you can and will get it done. As well, you should realize if you are putting your problems onto someone/something else. Stay true to the reality of the world. The world includes pain.. you can’t ignore the pain, or the tasks that are painful… hoping they’ll go away on their own. If they stay neglected, you’ll have long-term pain (urgent and important tasks burning holes in your desk). So, best get it done in the short term, and delay your gratification until you’ve got that short term pain out of your way. This way your mind will be free to relax and enjoy that well-deserved pleasure.

<whew> I hope that puts it all together for me, and for others who might catch it. It’s been a long post, but hopefully it will clarify things in my head a bit.

Quick update: Peck is a bit more focused on personal psychological development rather than time-management. I have to admit, however, that his comments regargind procrastination were spot-on for me. So, I will continue to read his book interested in his comments for all areas of my life…

Now that I delayed my gratification a bit with this long post… it’s time to go and enjoy a bowl of Russ Oulette’s Anniversary Kake in a Hans Christian Andersen II by Stanwell.

One last thing: kinkless kGTD system for Mac OS X and OOP, has been updated! Woo HOo!

March 23, 2006

Some good days…

Posted in Lifehacks, Mac, Uncategorized at 4:09 am by a11en

Well, finally, some good days hit. It’s break after all (although not really for me), so I have to say wonderful to have some good days to share! The good stuff:

  1. Before the Prof. left for vacation he took a look at my new data. Really really liked it, and suggested it should become it’s own paper. So, after the Prelim work, work will begin on Paper #2, which is really encouraging, as I need this type of advancement if I’m going to accomplish my degree.
  2. The little bit of rest I’ve afforded myself and my girlfriend has really helped chill me out from the crazy semester. I’m now renewed.
  3. One of our projects just got funded! Extreme Yeah!! I can’t tell you how much weight this takes off my shoulders. In the least, this suggests that the LBIC work I wish to complete for my work will be able to be funded, as well as future work in the CMM during this year’s mad dash to get things done. Couple that with exploratory EBIC work and perhaps a few other cool things, and we have a thesis approach. :) yipee.
  4. A visiting Prof. showed a bit of interest in an approach I took to data analysis. I’m hoping she’ll send some samples on our way so that I can collaborate with her! As well, others in the CMM have requested some info on how I’m doing some of my work, so a little TeX writeup will have to come soon that will be an appendix in the Thesis. Good thing. :)

Today’s little LifeHack note: A cheap floor to ceiling whiteboard? – Purchase a sheet of White Melamine Board from the local hardware-store giant. Mine cost me $8. Perfect for whiteboard pens, and reasonable erase qualities. If it goes bad, pitch it, and get another for another $8. Um… did I mention it was only $8? ;) [Stick a bit of velcro on there, and some velcro on your pens, and now you have a place to store ‘em. Don’t forget your eraser as well!]

Earworm: “Such Great Heights” performed by The Postal Service from the album Give Up

ps- for those who wonder how I do my little Earworm (props to Meffle), I have a “current track” applescript that Quicksilver knows about. So, I just hit my hotkey, start typing current tr… and up pops the script, hit enter, and I’m good to paste it in! Works with any text box. :)

pps- man, it’s good to not have to worry about the cash for these tests… Did I mentioned I’m ready to get this stuff done and make a good run of things? :) Woo hoo ! Here I come! Watchout… ;)

March 14, 2006

A bit about the monster…

Posted in Lifehacks, Procrastination at 7:35 pm by a11en

The monster looms over me with claws and teeth bared.

He laughs when I see something I don’t know or am unsure of.

He sharpens his claws as the dates of importance loom closer.

Each day that is not spent working on learning about the monster and cutting him down to size, are days that the monster grows larger, growls stronger and becomes much much scarier.

Somewhere in the past number of years in Graduate school, I began believing in monsters again. When I was a kid, and the lights went out, I saw my clothes in the closet and was scared of what was unknown. With the help of my parents, I learned that by turning on the light, I could see again, and realize these things were just the shadows and shapes of my own favorite items. When I was a teenager, the thought of monsters was pure insanity. A kid’s mania. By some strange turn of events, I have lost the confidence of my teens. I’ve gained personal physical confidence, that wasn’t had back then, but my mental confidence has lapsed. Now, when I’m working in the dark, and in things unkown, I see snippets of unkown equations, scary corners, and I think to myself: “The Monster!!” I often cower in the dim light of my understanding, unwilling to reach out and confront the monster. So, the monster looms. He gets stronger and scarier. My brain gives him more teeth and more claws! I’m afraid to go out into the darkness. Even if others have been there in the past…
I have somehow forgotten there is no such thing as Monsters.

Often the things we need to work on are the things which are scary and unknown. Rarely are the things we need to work on already previously known. If they were known by us already, rarely are they the items that need to be studied. For, they have already been accomplished. No, what is required are people who aren’t scared to go into the dark and face these monsters head on, and teach others about what they’ve discovered.

We need to be explorers unafraid of what is around each corner of our lives. Attack each new dark place we are unsure of, learn the lessons there, and move forward to new unknowns and new accomplishments.

March 10, 2006

Tea, Ink, and Friends…

Posted in FountainPens, Lifehacks at 3:53 am by a11en

A bit of a schizophrenic post here, but oh well! ;)

An update on Noodler’s Inks:

  • Excellent resistance to water. I tried a quick test with some of the Legal-Lapis yesterday, and it’s completely water proof. Looked like the small note hadn’t even been submerged. Other FP inks didn’t survive this little test.
  • Really improved the writing of my el-cheapo Parker. I think I have the vector, but I can’t be sure. As soon as I started using the Noodler ink, I immediately noticed smoother writing with the FP tip (mine is a fine nib).
  • With my Pelikan m150, the Legal-Lapis made the pen feel amost like it was writing on butter. Excellent smoothness, a slightly broader line, but over-all a huge improvement. Wonderful ink.
  • I did notice more with my Pelikan and the Legal-Lapis (not with the Parker and the Red I ordered), that there’s a bit of a bleed-over onto the top of the nib which is more pronounced than with other inks. However, this is a very small price to pay for a smoother writing ink, one that is archival quality/neutral Ph, and completely waterproof and safe for legal documents.

A small lifehack: the HotShot by Sunbeam (~$20)

This little hot-water heater is fantastic in the office. I’m a bit of a tea-junkie, I like my Earl Grey, Sencha (or gold-quality Sencha from a dear friend), and Yerba Mate. When I’m in the mood for some tea, I just walk down the hallway to the water-fountain, snag a cupfull of water, drop it into my hotshot, press a button, and in lightning-fast time, I have boiling water in my cup ready for my tea! I’ll have to time it- it’s freakin’ fast, though! Placing just a cup-full into the resevoir means that you don’t have any left-over water.

An update on my experience purchasing from Pendemonium:

Pendemonium has caught themselves a new long-term customer. They did this by having a real-live human being answering any and all questions via e-mail. I suspect they even would do so via the telephone. No question was silly or problematic for them, and they were kind and quick with their help and replies! I couldn’t ask anything more from an online retailer. Not to mention they have excellent prices on fountain-pens. So, if you’re looking for a place to purchase inks and fountain-pens from, check out Pendemonium!

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