Last October I published a book entitled #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity using a publishing process I devised called OpenBeta. It’s based on the principle of a book being cheaper the earlier you ‘buy into’ into the creative process. I always intended to make it free after a year, but I’ve decided to do so earlier as I’m increasingly referring to it in my interactions with people: I’d like everyone to be able to read it for free!
It looks great on the iPad. It’s also available as cheap as I could make it on the Amazon Kindle Store (which might take a while to reflect price change) and as a physical book at Lulu.
Do pass the link on and let me know if you find it helpful! 🙂
#uppingyourgame is about personal productivity, not about applying somebody else’s system to your life. It’s about finding what drives you, discovering your ‘well of motivation’ and using this to create an ever-upwards virtuous circle. Above all it’s about doing more of what you enjoy doing and less of what you don’t.
The guidance, ideas and tips contained in #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity range from coming up with a philosophy of productivity upon which to base your system right through to helping others become more productive.
#uppingyourgame is helps you develop productivity for life. It’s not just about ‘getting things done’.
I’m not attempting to get into a flame war with this post. It’s a personal reflection and more of a statement than an argument. Please comment appropriately! 🙂
In a perfect world, everything I use would be an Open Source product and have been produced using Open principles and philosophies. I’ve been part of a Becta-funded project into the use of Open Source Software (OSS) in schools, spent time with Linux as my sole operating system, and have given away (to anyone who’d have them) CDs and DVDs containing OSS.
But, without consciously aiming to do so, I’ve found myself using less and less Open Source stuff over the last year or so. Why? There’s several reasons.
1. Standards are to innovate upon
The reason that we have ‘standards’ in any area of life is to ensure compliance. But that isn’t meant to limit creativity and innovation, but to serve as a basis upon which it can flourish. Whilst there’s a lot of wonderful work going on in the OSS arena, there’s also a lot of people and projects engaging in catch-up.
2. Willingness to pay for software
When I was younger I had no or very little money. I’m far from rich now, but can nevertheless afford to pay for software that improves my productivity and/or outputs. This means that I’m using iWork instead of OpenOffice.org, for example.
3. Ecosystems and things ‘just working’
I was sorely tempted to purchase an Android-powered mobile phone recently. The main reason I didn’t? It had nothing to do with the specifications of the phone I had in mind. It was to do with access to the iTunes store. I listen to a lot of podcasts but, since moving completely to Spotify for my music, no longer sync my iPhone at all. Whilst I would be able to use software such as DoubleTwist to get content onto an Android-powered phone, it would mean syncing again and no access on-the-move. That, as they say, was a dealbreaker for me.
The other thing about tightly-controlled ecosystems is that, for all the whinging about control, DRM and monopolies they provide a seamless, enjoyable and fairly risk-free experience to the end user. I know, for example, that I’m going to get well-made app in the iPhone app store, and that books are going to be formatted correctly when using the Amazon Kindle store.
Finally, ecosystems mean that things ‘just work’. I continue to use Google’s online offerings because they all work together so well. I can get data in and data out easily, and transfer information between applications quickly. Taking any longer than necessary to do tasks isn’t high on my list of desirable features for any technology with a thesis to write…
4. Too much choice
The mantra of the ‘noughties’, if it had one, would have been ‘choice, choice, choice’. We were given a plethora of television channels, luxury goods and even hospitals to choose from. More choice, it was argued, led to higher standards.
However, the problem with too much choice is that you become paralysed in the process of decision-making. You need some kind of kind or heuristic to apply to the situation. Think about purchasing a laptop. There are so many makes, types, shapes and colours that it would take a great deal of time even to whittle it down to three choices.
The same goes with software. Once I’ve found a reputable and high-quality source of hardware or software, I’m likely to stick with that source unless something disastrous happens. So who do I look for when I’m making hardware purchases? Apple and Sony. Where do I look first for my online apps and software? Google.
5. Free is not OSS
I still use a lot of free software. But much of it is not OSS. There are new models evolving where the end product is made available either temporarily or permanently to users for free. (think of ‘freemium’ models, sponsored apps and the like!)
The fact that it is (usually) free is, like it or not, the biggest selling point of OSS. Whilst I and others completely buy into the philosoph(ies) behind it, with the increasing availability of free (as in beer) software undermines the appeal of OSS.
I am not advocating that people ignore OSS in favour of proprietary products. Far from it. What I am pointing out here is that the landscape is changing and OSS advocates need to change their approach. My recommendations:
I like free stuff. I also like Open Source (OSS) stuff. I especially like FLOSS. OSS has a model that works:
In his 1997 essay The Cathedral and the Bazaar, open source evangelist Eric S. Raymond suggests a model for developing OSS known as the bazaar model. Raymond likens the development of software by traditional methodologies to building a cathedral, “carefully crafted by individual wizards or small bands of mages working in splendid isolation”. He suggests that all software should be developed using the bazaar style, which he described as “a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches.” (Wikipedia)
The trouble is, the only real ‘model’ that non-OSS developers have for making software freely available is freemium: making basic services free whilst charging for more advanced features.
Educators get upset when services they’ve been using (for free) get shut down. That’s understandable.
Why are educators using these free, online tools? Because those that are provided for them don’t cut the mustard. Why aren’t they paying for the more advanced (premium) features? Because they would have to pay for them personally.
Encourage/dictate that staff and students use only Open Source software (if a developer leaves, the software is still there and you can find/pay someone to develop it further)
Give staff (and students?) a budget to spend on software/web apps (a bit like a personal version of the ill-fated eLearning Credits system in the UK)
Have a backup plan (what other services could you migrate to if the worst came to the worst?)
If you don’t pay for it (or, if ad-supported, click on the ads) don’t grumble if it’s not there tomorrow.
I’m not a huge fan of spending money on software and digital services. There’s a couple of reasons for this. The first is that I’m an advocate of Open Source Software (see Open Source Schools, of which I’m part). As such, I believe that making software available free of charge – with the source code inspectable – makes for better software and communities built around the functionality the software provides. The second reason is that I tend to like to have something tangible as a result of any financial outlay.
All this is by way of explanation as to why the following are services that persuade me to part with some of my hard-earned money. I follow that with those I use for free but would happily pay for! 😉
Things upon which I *do* spend real cash
I have a number of websites and blogs, all of which need a home on the Internet. I’ve found Bluehost to be reliable and very reasonably priced. They’ve got CPanel installed in the admin interface, which makes installing web applications such as WordPress and forums a breeze!
Flickr ($25 = c.£17)
Photographs are incredibly important things. They are a snapshot of a time that can never be recaptured, and evoke powerful memories. Despite backing up regularly via my Apple Time Capsule, it’s important that I never lose the most important of my photographs – especially those of my son. That’s why I upload all the ones I consider important to Flickr.
Purchasing a yearly Flickr Pro license means that more than just the last 200 of my photographs can be seen and that I can create an unlimited number of ‘sets’ in which to place them. 😀
Remember The Milk ($25 = c.£17)
You may wonder why I’d spend good money on what is, essentially, a glorified to-do list. It’s because Remember The Milk (RTM) is so easy-to-use and fits in with my way of working. The free account is fine if you just want to organise yourself via the web-based interface, but the real power comes if you’ve got an iPhone. The app for the iPhone is only available to those who have a Pro subscription. It’s a work of art in terms of simplicity and adding to your productivity. Great stuff. 😀
Things upon which I *would* spend real cash
Gmail & Google Docs
Gmail features c.7GB of storage With Google Docs providing an online, collaborative suite of office applications that are just a joy to use. Every time I reflect on the fact that I can use this for free, I count myself fortunate. Marvellous!
Super-quick synchronous Internet connection
We currently get broadband free from Orange as a benefit from my wife’s mobile phone contract. We pay an additional £5 per month to upgrade the speed from 2MB/s to 8MB/s. But that’s only the (theoretical) download speed. We get about 6MB/s download and 512KB/s upload.
I’d pay about £25/month for 20MB/s synchronous DSL and would even consider £50/month for 50MB/s. That really would mean ‘cloud computing’! 😉
Twitter is a micro social networking/blogging service with a 140-character limit. I’ve connected to even more people than I had done previously via blogs in the Edublogosphere. It’s real-time and very, very powerful. Some people call it their ‘PLN’ (Personal Learning Network). I’m not one of them. I just think it’s great. 😉
If, for example, Twitter charged the same amount for a year’s service as Flickr does (i.e. $25) I think it would be hugely profitable very quickly.
WordPress is the software that power this and, to be honest, most blogs on the Internet. It’s developed rapidly – mainly because it’s Open Source – and very flexible and powerful. If you don’t as yet have your own blog, I’d encourage you to sign up with Bluehost and install WordPress on your own domain via CPanel. You can, of course, just use WordPress.com…
Which software and digital services do YOU pay for? Why?
Sometimes we have to use computers that are not our own. Many times we have more than one that we use – for example one at home and one at school. Wouldn’t it be great if you could take all of your settings from one computer to the next, instead of having to configure each individually?
Enter Portable Apps. It’s a suite of free and open-source applications that can be installed anywhere, including a USB flash drive. Users can then run the applications from there, in effect ‘taking their settings with them’!
Students inhabit a visually-rich, media-driven world. Sometimes, as educators with limited time on our hands, it’s difficult to compete. Animoto is an easy-to-use and extremely powerful way of creating short videos to grab students’ interest. Better still, it’s free for educational use!
This post was prompted, in part, by a wonderful recent presentation by Merlin Mann’s entitled How To Blog and its horror-inducing first few slides.
I’ve been contacted in the past week by two separate individuals who wanted to place paid advertisements on my sites. The first offered $150 for 6 text-link ads at the end of blog posts on the now-defunct teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk. I presume this is because these appear near the top of Google search rankings for certain keywords. The second was simply exploring the possibility of paid adverts on this blog.
I said no to both on principle. You may find that strange, as I’ve had Google and iTunes ads on my sites before.** Well, yes, but I’ve realised the error of my ways! As has been pointed out to me by several people, adverts on a personal blog make people question your impartiality and just don’t look very professional. I’ve taken these points on board. The only advertising on my sites now can be found at historyshareforum.com to help cover hosting and bandwidth costs. :-p
So you can be sure that when I recommend certain products and services, I’m not being paid the individuals or companies behind them. Transparency is key.
The only thing I’m now struggling with now is revealing which school I work at. In the past I’ve made sure I don’t say where I work to keep the professional and personal completely separate. In a connected online world, however, this is becoming increasingly difficult. Take elearnr, for example. This is a blog I’ve set up to share links, resources and guides I create in my new role as E-Learning Staff Tutor. Whilst I mention names of members of staff on there, I haven’t – as yet – said which school I’m talking about. I’m torn between what it will mean for this blog, and being completely transparent with the other.
I’ve been a paid-up user of Animoto for a few months now, ever since I saw how powerful it’s behind-the-scenes trickery was. I blogged about its potential over at dougbelshaw.com, providing a sample video that I used to encourage more Year 9 students to opt for History next academic year.
I’m delighted to discover, therefore, that Animoto is now free for educators. It’s a fantastic and engaging way to introduce a topic, present photos of a trip, or allow your students to have some fun! 😀