Tag: Productivity (page 2 of 19)

My current Mozilla workflow: Trello, Google Mail, and GitHub

Like Clay Shirky, I think that over-optimising your setup and workflow for now can lead to long-term anachronism. He says:

[S]ince every tool switch involves a period of disorientation and sub-optimal use, I have to make myself be willing to bang around with things I don’t understand until I do understand them. This is the opposite of a dream setup; the thing I can least afford is to get things working so perfectly that I don’t notice what’s changing in the environment anymore.

In this screencast I show how I’m using Trello, Google Mail, and GitHub as part of my current workflow. This may change by next month – or even next week!

I’d love your comments and questions, particularly if you share your workflow or have any tips/tweaks for mine!


PS In 2015 I’m writing a book in my spare time called #uppingyourgame v2.0: a practical guide to personal productivity which you may find interesting…

On working remotely

As I mentioned recently, I’m a regular reader of Hacker News. Yesterday one of the links on the front page was to a blog post by a UK-based employee of Etsy. He (Jon Cowie) was explaining what it’s been like to work remotely for a tech company over the last three years.

The post resonated strongly with me and I just wanted to pick out some parts from the post and compare/contrast with my own experience working for the Mozilla Foundation for almost the same amount of time.

Logistics

We’re a heavily distributed team with people spanning 4 time zones, although I’m currently the only person outside the US, which means my work day is between 5 and 7 hours ahead of the rest of my team.

Mozilla is even more distributed than Etsy, it would seem. Normal working hours start for my colleagues in San Francisco, Portland and Vancouver at the same time as they finish for my colleagues in Germany. Needless to say, there’s a need to be flexible! (I’m based in the UK, in a market town in the North East of England.)

The Good

The fact that I’m 5 hours ahead of the rest of my team has also turned out to be a benefit to my productivity here too – because I’m usually the only person on the team at work until 2PM or so in the UK, my entire morning is a block of time without any interruptions where I can get through tons of work. I’m also a morning person, so my brain is freshest when I start work.

This isn’t quite the case for me – my colleagues in Germany are an hour ahead of me – the majority of my colleagues are still asleep when I start work. If you’ve never experienced this, then it’s wonderful. You can get so much done without meetings and other interruptions!

I often joke that a bad commute for me is having to walk around a clothes dryer on the way to my desk, but there’s a serious point to make here – rather than spend 2 hours a day commuting as I did when working in London, I have a 10 second walk to my desk. This also gives me an extra 2 hours a day to play with

The commute thing is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I kind of miss the liminal space inbetween home and work – especially for listening to podcasts, gathering my thoughts, etc. On the other hand, being able to work when you want from pretty much anywhere is amazing.

Another major plus point to remote working is the flexibility that it affords – I’m always at home to receive deliveries. Car needs to go to the garage? No worries, I can pop by…. Individually, these are all very small things, but the cumulative effect makes the trials and tribulations of daily adulting much easier to deal with.

As Jon says, this is difficult to explain on an individual level, but it makes life so much easier. (I love the phrase ‘daily adulting’ – even if it does sound a little seedy…)

The Bad

The fact that your home and your office are in the same physical building can often lead to cabin fever in varying degrees. In my case I don’t find this too problematic due to my aforementioned tendency to naturally avoid crowded and noisy places, but there are occasions where I just need to get outside of these four walls.

I don’t have quite this problem as my home office is physically separate from our house. Still, I mix it up a bit by spending part of the morning working from either the local library or Wetherspoons (cheap, unlimited coffee; decent free wifi; comfy seats). Like Jon, I also exercise before lunch, ready for my colleagues to come online.

One of the toughest parts of my particular working situation, and that which I’ve had to be the most disciplined about, is stopping work at 6PM and not starting again until the next day.

Taking an “almost militaristic” approach to this (as Jon says he does) would be difficult for me. I certainly aim not to work after 6pm, but circumstances sometimes dictate it. For me, with two young children, I’m more interested in being around for them between 6pm and 8pm than I am protecting 8pm to 10pm. It’s horses for courses.

I’d really like Mozilla to implement something like timezone.io (the code’s on GitHub!)

When you have people working across physical locations, timezones and even countries, communication gets harder. People aren’t able to gather around the water cooler, it’s easy for people to feel left out if they’re the one who isn’t in the office, and including remotes in meetings and discussions can often be tricky.

The way that I always explain the difference to people is that, when your communications are mediated by technology, every interaction is intentional. What I mean by that is you can’t just wander over to a co-worker and ask how they’re doing, or bump into them in a corridor. Sometimes this is great and a real aide to productivity. But sometimes it can feel isolating.

Thankfully I have some colleagues who regularly ping me on IRC and Skype just to talk through various things (work and social stuff). We also have a Friday meeting which is at the end of the day for Europeans and midday for those on US Eastern Time (New York / Toronto). This usually involves talking about non-work stuff with alcohol for us and lunch for them. It’s a nice end to the week.

Conclusion

Be prepared to work at it, and be awesome to each other. Remote working can be an amazingly empowering and positive experience, but it doesn’t come for free. Effort in, results out – from both company and employees.

Like any position in any organisation, there’s ups and downs working remotely for Mozilla. As Bryan Mathers commented when I interviewed him this week it doesn’t work for everyone. It takes a level of maturity and emotional stability that, to be honest, I sometimes struggle with. When most of the signals you’re getting are text-based you can read too much into things. I’ve heard that more than half of face-to-face communication is non-verbal which I can definitely believe.

But despite all of this, working remotely is absolutely fantastic. It means I have no excuse not to be insanely productive. There’s nowhere to hide when it comes to carving out time to go to the gym. My time is (largely) my own to get on and get stuff done. I’m judged by what I produce rather than when I do it.

It may not fit with all industries but I think that, if you can make it work for you and your organisation, it’s a huge bonus.


Do you work remotely? Would you like to? I’d love to read your comments and questions in the section below!

Seven places I find interesting, relevant and useful stuff in 2015

I started using a new web service yesterday and something dawned on me:  half of the bookmarks in the toolbar of my browser seem to be devoted to similar kinds of sites. I’ve come to see these as a series of ‘sieves’. It’s important to use more than one and experimenting with new ones to prevent rust setting in!

Some of these services may be useful to you, so I thought I’d share them along with a couple of reasons why I find them handy. They’re listed in alphabetical order. If you have questions about them, I’ll try and answer in the comments section below.


hckr news - Hacker News sorted by time 2015-01-20 19-57-03

Hacker News

http://news.ycombinator.com

Possibly a little technical for the average web user, but the front page usually contains some gems. It’s basically a site where anyone can submit a link and it gets up-and-down voted by the community. Because of its focus, there’s often some really insightful comments in the threads. I tend to use an alternative interface (shown above) called hckrnews.com


Know About It

Know About It

http://knwbt.it

Again, this is a tech-focused site, but can be useful for surfacing some important or interesting discussions happening in various forums around the web.


Nuzzel

Nuzzel

http://nuzzel.com

This is my most recent find and is for everyone! You sign in with Twitter and/or Facebook and it curates the links that most of your contacts are talking about. Good for quickly catching up with stuff without having to endlessly scroll through your streams.


Panda

Panda

https://usepanda.com

This is a dashboard with three versions: one each for designers, developers and entrepreneurs. My work kind of spans all three. Or at least it does in my head. 😉


Product Hunt

Product Hunt

http://producthunt.com

This is perhaps the site I most look forward to visiting. It’s like other sites in that items can be posted and voted up and down. However, these tend to be niche startups (extremely niche in some cases!) that you otherwise might not hear about.


reddit

Reddit

https://reddit.com

If you haven’t heard of Reddit then you’re either technically dead, have a moist under-rock home, or haven’t been online long enough. It’s the self-styled ‘front page of the internet’ and there’s always a ‘subreddit’ to find interesting. Can be a time-suck. A couple of my favourites are /r/todayilearned/ and /r/explainlikeimfive/.


Zite

Zite

http://zite.com

This is probably the service I currently use least, mainly because it’s mobile-only. There was a time when I’d check this every day. It does surface some really interesting stuff. I’m not sure of its future since the Flipboard acquisition…

Conclusion

As you can probably see even from the screenshots above, some stuff appears in more than one place. If this happens, I take it as being an indication that this is important to pay attention to. Weak signals!

It’s probably worth pointing out that the above is a marked shift from my online reading habits before the demise of Google Reader. These services are either algorithmically-curated or curated by popular vote rather than  manually curated by me. Our information environments are important – as I pointed out in this DMLcentral post last year!


Oh and a bonus. As emojis are so 2014 here’s a huge list of Kaomojis. I use the one below in my Mozilla email signature and you may have spotted a few in my Twitter timeline…

(=^・ω・^)y=

Header image CC BY Karl Herler

Announcing TWO new e-books: #uppingyourgame v2.0 and an Essential Elements of Digital Literacies workbook

Update: I abandoned (and refunded) those who bought these ebooks. Instead, I’ve turned #uppingyourgame v2.0 into an audiobook. Check it out here!


TL;DR: In 2015 I’m going to write #uppingyourgame v2.0: a practical guide to personal productivity and The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies: the workbook. You can buy each one for $0.99 + tax (~£0.79) right now and you’ll get every update to v1.0.


I’m excited to announce that I’ll be writing not one, but TWO e-books this year! Many thanks to those who took the time to respond to my call to ‘vote’ on what I should write next. Some people commented on the post, some direct messaged me, and some emailed. The outcome of all this was that, somewhat surprisingly, the Open Badges e-book I’d proposed wasn’t as popular as the other two.

It was neck-and-neck between #uppingyourgame v2.0: a practical guide to personal productivity and The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies: the workbook. So, instead of choosing one, I’ve decided to write both of them concurrently. I’ll spend the most time on that ebook that has the most backers. Whatever happens, I’m planning to finish both of them by the end of the year.

While I’ve been very happy with Gumroad as a platform for selling the finished version of The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies, I’m going to try LeanPub for these two new ebooks. I like to write (and sell) ebooks iteratively as it allows me to get feedback from those invested in the content. For previous books following the OpenBeta process I used a manual, system I strung together myself. I’m hoping LeanPub makes this a lot more streamlined.

You can buy #uppingyourgame v2.0: a practical guide to personal productivity and The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies: the workbook in their current form today. That is to say, you’ll get an indicative overview of what the books will cover for the princely sum of $0.99 + tax (~£0.79). The reason you might want to buy now rather than later is that at each milestone I’ll be increasing the price of the ebooks until they’re finished. You also get to help shape the finished version by giving me feedback.

Click on the images below to be taken to the respective LeanPub landing page for each ebook! Thanks in advance for your support and interest in my work. 🙂

#uppingyourgame v2.0

The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies: the workbook

Image CC BY Robert Couse-Baker

The ABC of creating a system for personal productivity

Productive systems* are about heuristics and workflows. You can spend too long thinking about this stuff. Trust me, I have done. 😉

Here’s an approach that works for me. It might do for you, too. Ask yourself whether the system you’ve currently got meets the following ‘ABC’ conditions. If not, you might want to tweak it.

  • Is it Accessible?
  • Is it Beneficial?
  • Is it Collaborative?

These should be fairly self-explanatory, but if not, read on…

Accessible

Every part of your system should be available to you, wherever you are. The easiest way to do this is to either use a service that syncs between your smartphone and laptop/desktop – or use a paper-based notebook.

There’s benefits and drawbacks of using both digital and analogue tools. Digital tools can often be accessed from anywhere, but often require an internet connection and/or a device with power. Analogue tools, meanwhile, are flexible but need to be taken with you everywhere. If you forget them, then you’ve got a problem in trying to get hold of the information they contain.

Beneficial

Some productivity tools are what some people call ‘productivity porn’. That’s to say they’re super-slick and give the feeling of doing something to improve your system. In fact, they instead monopolise your time that should be spent doing the actual work you enjoy (or get paid for).

Coming to a decision around this can be difficult, as some tools have a learning curve. With others, the benefits don’t become clear until you’ve used them a while. Tagging can be a bit like that. I’d suggest not jumping on bandwagons, but instead let others review tools and techniques before trying it yourself.

Collaborative

This is perhaps the condition that actually needs some explanation. Imagine your work, your productive system is a jigsaw piece. Unless you’re in charge of absolutely everything in the work that you’re undertaking, you’ll need to inteface with someone else’s system at some point. Even if you use the same tools, you’re probably going to use them differently.

Unless you’re dealing with sensitive information, you might find openly sharing your productive system (your to-do list, your notes, etc.) might be of value to your co-workers. They, for example, may decide to adopt similar conventions around tagging, or use the same headings for their Trello board.

It’s also worth saying that if you use tools designed to be used by more than one person, there’s a chance they can join your workflow. This leads to less disruption for you – and greater productivity!

Conclusion

I’d be really interested to find out whether you think this ABC approach is useful – and what you’d add or take away. I know we’re all interested in creating the perfect system, so I’m minded to end this post by a warning from Clay Shirky:

I actually don’t want a “dream setup.” I know people who get everything in their work environment just so, but current optimization is long-term anachronism. I’m in the business of weak signal detection, so at the end of every year, I junk a lot of perfectly good habits in favor of awkward new ones.

* I’d loosely define a ‘productive system’ as a combination of tools and techniques that allow you to get things done efficiently.

Image CC BY Kyle Van Horn

My next e-book: three options for you to vote on

Thanks for the feedback! I’ve closed comments on this post now and announced the books I’m writing over here.

Update: something went horribly wrong in the process of using (the otherwise excellent) Gumroad for voting. I’ve transferred the overview of each one to this post, so please just leave a comment to indicate which e-book you’d prefer me write!


Last year I published The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies. I’ve recently reduced it in line with my pricing strategy.

I want to get started writing my next e-book, and I need your help in deciding what to focus on. Here’s my thoughts:

  • The Essential Elements of Open Badges
  • The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies: the workbook
  • #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity v2

Which would you choose? Add a comment below! 🙂

The Essential Elements of Open Badges

This book will cover everything from the promise of alternative credentialing to practical steps in getting started. We’ll delve into:

  • telling the difference between digital badges and open badges
  • how to create your first open badge
  • designing learning pathways
  • creating a meaningful and rigorous badge system
  • some of the technical side of things

Want me to write The Essential Elements of Open Badges? Leave a comment below!


The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies - workbook

This workbook builds on the success of The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies. It will provide activities to help learners at all levels improve their skills.

Things that will be covered in the workbook will include:

  • an overview of the 8C’s of digital literacies
  • suggested activities for beginner, intermediate and advanced learners
  • teacher notes
  • a glossary of terms

Want me to write The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies: the workbook? Leave a comment below!


#uppingyourgame v2

Updating the original #uppingyourgame e-book, this new version will cover everything you need to be more productive on a personal level. It will include:

  • reasons for being more productive
  • workflow creation
  • useful tools and apps
  • automating parts of your workflow
  • helping others be more productive

Want me to write #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity v2.0? Leave a comment below!


I’m really interested in writing all of these e-books, but I can’t focus on all three simultaneously! Could you help me choose? I’ll be following the same iterative OpenBeta process I’ve followed with previous ebooks.

Got other ideas? Comments? Suggestions? Leave a comment below!

Header image CC BY-NC-SA Mykl Roventine

Scripting the first hour of each (week)day

I’ve just been listening to an episode of the Tim Ferris Show podcast in which he answers some questions from the community. One of them was essentially about remaining productive when you’re having an off day. Tim answered this by talking about ‘decision fatigue’ and suggested scripting the first 30 mins or hour of your day to get into the right mindset.

This is a great idea and something I’ve kind of meaning to write about for a while. I’ve got a half-finished post about President Obama’s advice to limit the decisions you make – even about clothing.

So here we go. Here’s what I do every morning. It might be a slight update from what I wrote for My Morning Routine.

1. Wake up without an alarm clock. This means that it’s not always exactly the same time, but it also means it’s likely to be a ‘softer’ awakening.

2. Get the children breakfast. I try to start their day off well by being interested in what they’ve got to say. I sit down with them at the table and have a cup of camomile tea.

3. Go to the toilet. I check Twitter while I’m there. Well, at least I’m honest.

4. Make my wife a cup of tea. I take it up to her while she’s getting dressed.

5. Get my daughter dressed. She can do most of this now herself as she’s almost four years old. However, she can struggle with some buttons, etc.

6. Wash myself. I go to the gym or swimming every day and have a shower afterwards, so this is quick.

7. Do press-ups, sit-ups, etc. I use my roll mat for this as we have a wooden floor in our bedroom.

8. Get myself dressed. Depending on how I feel I’ll wear jeans and a shirt/jumper or else a t-shirt and a hoodie.

9. Help my son. He alternates between Khan Academy and Duolingo for a week at a time. It’s had a demonstrable effect on his numeracy and French skills.

10. Have breakfast. This is usually just a slice of toast with butter. About an hour before exercise I’ll eat a banana.

This routine is flexible. Kids are wonderful at being able to play and amuse themselves, so sometimes this takes an hour, sometimes two. It depends. Every morning I walk them to school, which I consider a real privilege.

I’ve just realised that the above makes it sound like I do everything while my wife does nothing. That’s certainly not the case! She makes the house run like clockwork. I’m a mere cog. 😉

The thing missing for me is time to take my own emotional temperature. Usually I dive straight into work when I should probably read more Baltasar Gracián first!

[INCOMING] #BelshawBlackOps14

TL;DR: as I’ve done for the past few years, I’ll be spending some time away from personal email, blogging and social networking during the months of November and December. You can see what I got up to last year here.


‘Belshaw Black Ops’ is the name Paul Lewis gave to my annual time away from personal email, blogging, social networking, and writing my weekly newsletter. The aim is to recharge, both mentally and physically. Due to Seasonal Affective Disorder and living at 55.2° latitude, I’m a different version of Doug in the winter months.

This will be my fourth year of ‘black ops’ and it will be the second time I’ve spent two months away from email, blogging and social networking. I’ll be reading more books, watching more films, and generally pursuing longer-form, less emotionally-draining things. Boone Gorges summed it up well when he said:

A life spent on Twitter is a death by a thousand emotional microtransactions. I want to be pouring these energies into my family and my friends and my work.

Unlike Boone, I’m not saying ‘goodbye’, but merely ‘adieu’ for a defined period.

So if you need to contact me in November/December, first think about whether it can wait until January 1st. If you decide that it can’t, then you can find me in the places I hang out for work (Skype/IRC, mostly). It’s also not hard to find/guess my Mozilla email address.

Oh, and if you’ve got any recommended reading/watching to add to my list, please do add a comment below!

Image CC BY-NC-SA Stéfan

Battening down the hatches (again)

Towards the end of last September I wrote a post entitled Battening down the hatches. In it, I explained how I dread the coming of this time of year:

[As] the days get shorter so does my temper…. my productivity and motivation goes down at the same rate as the thermometer.

If it’s not the lack of sun then why (seemingly all of a sudden in the middle of September) every year do I get that feeling that gnaws away inside me?

It’s a really difficult emotion to describe but it’s one I’ve heard others reference: one that says “you’re not good enough”. It’s just an overwhelming feeling of sadness that seems to creep up on me from nowhere.

Autumn seems to be coming earlier. Usually, as my hayfever tails off, the need to start taking my asthma inhaler begins – but this year, they’re overlapping. That can only mean one thing: I need to start battening down the hatches earlier.

Reviewing the things I listed last year that tend to help means I can prepare myself for what is to come:

  • Cold showers – unfortunately the house we’ve moved to doesn’t have a shower and it’s going to be awkward to put one in until we convert the loft. It’s high on my list of priorities, though.
  • Autumn half-term holiday to somewhere sunny – not currently booked as we went away in the summer holidays. However, I am speaking at a conference in Miami in early December.
  • Schedule less time away from home – a lot easier this year than last because of the changing nature of my role at Mozilla.
  • Vitamin D tablets – purchasing today.
  • SAD light – already out of its box in preparation. I may take some preventative ‘doses’ on grey days during this coming week.
  • Daily walks – I’ve started walking every morning, although I may need to change this to midday later in the year.

Of course, the best thing would be to split my time between our home in Northumberland and somewhere like California or the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, that’s unlikely to be happening anytime, as our children get older and we ‘put down roots’.

Managing my mental health is one of the most important things I can do – for myself, my family, and my employers. It’s all too easy to get into a spiral from which it’s extremely difficult to escape. Hopefully, being mindful, starting earlier, and taking the steps above will make the next six months manageable.

Thanks to those who commented on my post last year with some suggestions:

  • Joel mentioned that changing his diet, getting outside more, and altering some of his activities (less Facebook, less fiction reading) helped.
  • Mark suggested fitting daylight CFL’s around the house to brighten the place up.
  • Jade recommended St. John’s Wort and Evening Primrose to fight off depression – as well as waking up with sunlight.
  • Clint swears by feeling the full force of nature by standing on the beach during a gale, writing more, and watching fun movies.

To finish, a quotation:

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.

(Albert Camus)

Walking to calm the monkey chatter mind

A couple of months ago I wrote about my morning routine. In that post I mentioned that I’ve begun to take my ’emotional temperature’ when I wake up. Something I’ve found useful no matter what colour I find my mood is a morning walk; it helps calm the monkey mind:

Mind monkey or monkey mind, from Chinese xinyuan and Sino-Japanese shin’en 心猿 [lit. “heart-/mind-monkey”], is a Buddhist term meaning “unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable”. (Wikipedia)

There’s something about the repetitive act of walking that takes thoughts tangled like an old ball of yarn and organises them into some sort of coherence. I guess the same is true of cycling or swimming, too.

I’m fortunate as there’s an ancient woodland on my doorstep to walk through, but even without this I think that the act of walking anywhere helps. The digital world is so fast-paced and almost schizophrenic compared to the offline world that we need to pull ourselves out of the stream to order our thoughts.

This weekend I’m looking forward to taking this further with a Hill Skills course. It’s the first step on the rung towards becoming a Mountain Leader. I never got around to doing the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award when I was younger, so I guess this is my opportunity to make amends!

Image CC BY Berit Watkin

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