March 29, 2006

Inbox to Zero… my experiences…

Posted in GTD, Mac at 10:58 pm by a11en

For a while now, Merlin Mann over at has been discussing the idea of getting your e-mail inbox to "zero" messages. Now, to many this sounds insane. Especially when you're dealing with a bazillion e-mail messages a day, everything from how to take your "little mr." and turn him into "big mr." to that colloquiem for work that you may or may not eventually think about wanting to attend next week. Or, your mother who continually sends you e-mail hoaxes which have been sitting on for almost as long as the internet has existed. But, the reality of the matter is, if you're only concerned with those items which absolutely need your attention, your actual important e-mail correspondences are quite small to meager in comparison to everything that crosses your desk. So, with some liberal application to Archiving and sorting e-mails which require action (@action folder, perhaps split into work and play), you can pair down your inbox so that you start your day fresh and can reply quickly and effectively to all correspondences which require it, or file those which need longer than 2-minute responses (GTD).

So, I've successfully brought my e-mail inbox to zero on frequent occasions. But, here are a few benefits I've found of late. [I won't tell you *how* to do this, you know that you have to transfer into an archive or trash the messages which aren't important/modestly important to you.. as well, deal with and/or place those items needing action into a proper place/folder/mailbox for them.]

By doing so, all of a sudden I get a clearer picture of my signal-to-noise ratio. How much crap am I getting, and where does it need to go? A prime example are all those work-related lists you've found yourself added to which you rarely actually read, but want to keep 'cause you're like that… or me, rather.. a pack rat… So, when you get them in, with a nearly empty inbox- go ahead an make a filter right there and then… farm it off to a folder that should receive that list's e-mails and in the future, you can forget about it… one last thing to worry about in your inbox. As well, that Eddie Bauer and SportsmansGuide e-mail list.. farm those off to the right folders with a filter as well… Essentially, with a clean inbox, you all of a sudden realize what you're getting that you don't care about immediately, but want to automatically archive for future use. This helps your inbox stay at zero longer.

A description of my setup: I use Thunderbird, with the YAMB extension installed, and Growl and the command line for notifications. Careful of the "seconds" option in Yamb- you want to disconnect from the internet and declick that seconds radio button really quickly after being installed. Anyways, when setup properly, it notifies me with the subject and sender of the e-mail messages in a nice little (and beautiful) growl notification. [You will need Yamb to call the appropriate growlnotify shell command, and have growlnotify installed properly.] A description of this use can be found here. Also, anything I don't want notifying me, (let's say those adverts we were talking about earlier), get automatically filtered to a folder *outside* my inbox folder. Yamb can be chosen to notify you only on items coming into your Inbox folder in Thunderbird, and in this way I reduce the amount of notifications that Thunderbird interrupts me with. Another great way to reduce the clutter in your inbox, allow you to keep working when unnecessary e-mails come in.

Now, the only thing I wish I could get working is an automatic snopes search for anything that's been forwarded to me. 😉 he he he. Why is it always the women in the family that send e-mail hoaxes and chainletters out to everyone… or those "hugs- pass it along" type messages? Oh well. Gotta love 'em even so.

Earworm: "The Blues" performed by Mary Lou Williams from the album My Mama Pinned A Rose On Me

Now, Back to work!! 🙂

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 27, 2006

Gmail is down bigtime…

Posted in Rants at 7:41 pm by a11en

Well, no e-mail today. Gmail is down big-big-time. Hasn’t been up since this morning for all I can tell. Wonderful. No correspondences today. Just great.

7Habits & GTD & M. Scott Peck…

Posted in GTD at 6:30 pm by a11en

Post will be coming this evening on the union of Steven Covey’s 7-Habits of highly effective people, David Allen’s Getting Things Done, and M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Travelled.

There are some important cross-overs, which should help to highlight problem areas in our lives. This may be a recurring theme here on my blog, based on time constraints, I’m sorry I can’t congeal and post all my thoughts here immediately.

See you soon!

[for those who want to ensure they see it when they return, come back tomorrow, or on Wed. – sorry, work is taking priority…]

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 13, 2006

A word often left off…

Posted in Rants at 5:07 pm by a11en

This post may frustrate some. But, I will try to be short and concise due to time requirements.

I wanted to comment on a word that is often left off of a description most likely in the news today: “Illegal”. Seems like a big important word, eh? It says a lot. It says it’s not legal… not allowed… punishable by law. How come, then, we can have a rally of over 1,000 *illegal* immigrants in the middle of Chicago, and not a single INS agent in sight? I thought the whole point of an immigration service was quite simply to watch over the immigrants to this country, to deport those who were illegally here, and to screen and support those who are coming over legally.

A caveat: This whole country is built upon immigrants. This is a good thing. What is *not* good, is when a large number of people go through the proper legal channels to enter this country legally, and have to deal with long waits, and possible trips back home for visa lapses etc. When, all they want to do is enter legally, and eventually become a citizen of this fine country? What are we to say to these people? Should we point them towards the Mexico border and suggest they should try this route?

We sometimes have excellent Chinese researchers go over seas to give talks etc., and have sometimes been afraid of their difficulties in re-entering the country even with proper paperwork. I often laugh and suggest Tijuana. It’s not becoming much of a laugh anymore. When I see PhD students only wanting to become upstanding citizens of this country, pay their taxes, and raise their children here, only to be worried by visa troubles, I have to say, something is wrong. I think those who are in this country illegally are degrading the societies to which they belong to, a burden to their current localities, and should be pursuing legal routes of immigration.

Now, that said, I also think we should do something about speeding up and streamlining the entry process for immigrants. If it wasn’t so difficult to come into this country, possibly the illegal flux would reduce to some extent. I personally am a proponent of a strong immigration service, one that has a quick and speedy process to determine those who should be rejected, and those who should be speedily allowed to enter. With a better incoming process, we most likley will help alleviate this influx to some extent and create upstanding, tax-paying citizens as well.

But, at no time should we allow the illegal immigration to stand, or for those who have come in illegally to become legal citizens. It is quite clear they are breaking the law of the land they claim to wish to be a part of, and if this is truly the case, haven’t they already shown their lack of interest in supporting the laws this country currently has? I feel for their plight, I do, but the answer is not to simply ignore this infringement. The answer is to help them become legal citizens, through the proper channels, and to support those who follow the law of this great nation.

I hope that I haven’t frustrated, but I myself am an immigrant, and we went through the proper channels. Hmmm… interesting idea, eh? Filing for immigration status? Properly applying for visas? Wonder if it’d work! [It did for us.] 😉

[For those that are wondering, I’m Canuk by birth. Now, where’s my Brewskie and my took, eh?]

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!

March 8, 2006

Some Good Things (& the music of life…)

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:32 am by a11en

  • Duke Ellington
  • Ballvenie Double-Wood Single Malt Scotch
  • Pelikan Fountain Pens
  • Peterson System Deluxe Pipes
  • Russ Oulette’s blends
  • Greg Pease’s blends
  • Samuel Gawaith blends
  • The love of a beautiful woman (who’s not your mom)

Pipe-fed philosphy for today: The world is full of music around us… we have to be able to stop and listen to it and realize each part plays it’s role in the symphony. The flats and sharps of life make the harmony more interesting than a simple mono-tonal drone… the staccatos and allegros make life interesting and difficult at times, but like all good musicians, our job is to learn how to play them appropriately. Where would our wonderful music be if when the music got too hard, the musicians just decided to stop playing? Our goal- is mastery of the music. Vibrato when the slow and moving largos happen, attack and clarity when the allegros come. We must be able to move and appropriate our playing to match the score. If we don’t, we’ll never survive the symphony.

Music is our collective emotion. Is it no wonder that it bridges all human-made barriers?

Earworm: “Edward The Second” performed by Duke Ellington from the album The Intimate Ellington

March 6, 2006

The Old becomes New…

Posted in Lifehacks at 5:16 pm by a11en

[quick note: I will have to update this post in the near future, as I don’t have time to give it it’s full due attention.]

There are two things in my life which I consider old. Actually, there are more, but if you know me, these two will be the most obvious to you.

First, I smoke a pipe. I’m the guy with the crazy bent pipe in his mouth walking around campus. I don’t condone vices to everyone, but for those struggling through their work, a pipe can seriously help one’s mental state. [more on this later- this is where the title of this blog comes from]

Second, I have recently begun using a fountain pen. It’s a joy to write again, because I have a fine pen in hand. For those who need archive-safe, permanent ink (more permanent than ball-point ink), I strongly recommend you check out Noodler’s Inks. I have three colors coming to me very soon, and I couldn’t be more excited. My newest purchase is a Pelikan m150. It is a seriously beautiful pen: somewhat understated, with simple lines and yet beautiful and wonderful to write with.

Finally, I’m trying to cope with the intensity of my work and lack of accomplishment of late, reading a bit of a highly recommended “The Road Less Travelled” between various duties, as well as noticing this post about continuing to practice and dig in one’s area in the “not fun to do” portions of one’s work.  We can actually improve our abilities to the point of being a true expert; it is not a function of genetics.  As discussed in the Headrush Blog.

Here’s to getting through the pain, improving one’s work, and attempting to complete something HUGE.