Loading...

Follow Ethan Banks - The Peering Introvert on Feedspot

Continue with Google
Continue with Facebook
or

Valid

In a culture of Internet toxicity, a question all productivity-minded people should ponder is why they are participating in social platforms. For example, Twitter has become a predominantly negative cesspool. Even the pun-loving techies I monitor from a distance seem to lean increasingly toward darkness and anger.

Few rainbows are to be found on Twitter these days. Maybe it’s just the dark mode UI talking, but I don’t go there to laugh anymore. I don’t go there to connect with friends. Instead, I put on my virtual armor, and read through comments and responses directed at me or my company. To be sure, much of what I see is fine. However, many comments are meant to start fires, even when couched in smiling niceties.

That’s the Internet for you. We’ve always had flame wars, trolls, and haters, all the way back to my dial-up days on Delphi forums and AOL. I know how to block and mute people, and of course that helps. Even so, I find that there’s something different in the tone these days. Folks are on crusades to bring others down. To shame. To burn in digital effigy.

To destroy.

When toxicity spills over into my timeline despite my best filtering efforts, my head goes to a bad place. I lose focus on work, finding myself instead brooding on the dark proclamations of the vocal bitter who wield hashtags as cudgels.

Why am I on this platform? Why am I participating in social media’s culture of toxicity, even passively?

I’ve had answers for this in years past–the “good outweighing the bad” argument winning me back repeatedly. Lately? I’m not sure that holds up. Social media is largely a destructive force, designed to deliver advertisements, arguments, and addiction. Considering those selling points, no one would purchase the product.

What, exactly, is the point then? Others have asked themselves this question and have opted out. Some I know personally. Some I’ve read about. The common theme among these folks? None have reported regret for having walked out of the toxic mire that can depress the mind and rob productivity.

Yes, I still have a Twitter account, but I can no longer explain why, at least not in a way that stands up to intellectual rigor. The issue is becoming harder to ignore.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

I haven’t tracked my time in many years. I’ve always felt the practice was a nuisance. Hey, I’m busy. I have a lot to do. I’m working on it. Don’t distract me with a time sheet. You know what I do, boss, right? Do I really have to document my daily doings?

Working for myself means I don’t have to perform such trivial tasks, and of course, I don’t. However, I have been wondering over the last month where my workday goes. Often, it feels like I park my tush in my office chair, begin working on tasks, and then the day is suddenly over.

Except that often, the day isn’t over. My workday ends when I’ve accomplished everything I need to for that day. Eight hours gone by? Whatever. Head down. Keep at it. Get everything done. The list won’t get shorter tomorrow. If I want to get paid, I have to get my work done.

The Final Countdown

With more days than I want falling into a pattern of working more hours than I’d like, I’ve gotten serious about determining what the problem is. Do I need to turn away projects? Should I hire someone to handle some of the load? Am I not embracing the life of a stereotypical small business owner?

Or is this just a matter of being inefficient?

I’ve tried something simple to sort out where the time is going, and it’s not a time sheet, as I don’t like seizures. Instead, I’m using a countdown timer.

When I sit down in the morning, I start the eight hour timer counting down. The goal? Complete everything I need to on a given day in eight hours or less. Why eight hours? Why not? That’s a standard number of daily working hours for many folks, so it feels like the right place to start.

Observations

1. Eight hours feels like less time than it is as soon as the countdown timer rolls over to 7:59:59. Similarly, 5:45:00 left on the timer (mid-morning), feels like a distressingly short amount of time to get things done.

A sense of urgency rises up. Instead of feeling like I have many hours ahead of me to get things done, I feel like time is slipping away from me, so I’d best get a move on.

The countdown timer doesn’t stop, slow, or negotiate. The timer inexorably marches on. A countdown timer is an impactful visual aid that a normal wall clock, even with a second hand sweep, somehow lacks.

2. With the sense of urgency comes focus. Unnecessary busy tasks that usually seem work-related instead feel like they are stealing my day when I see the clock ticking down.

For instance, reading that interesting article I spotted on LinkedIn. Oh…and checking LinkedIn in the first place. Checking a spreadsheet I don’t really need to check to review some stat I really don’t need to review. Getting sidetracked in a Slack conversation. Etc.

3. I have discovered that I waste time by putting off distasteful tasks. A distasteful task I don’t want to do just sits there on my list, and I make myself unproductively busy with other things to avoid it. The entire time I am unproductively busy, I make no progress on my task list.

By putting off the inevitable, I anchor myself to my desk. I’m like a little kid whose Mom insists I eat my veggies, but I push cold peas around the dinner plate instead of pushing them into my mouth to get it over with. I can’t go outside and play. I’m stuck at the dinner table.

Procrastination prolongs the work day.

4. Here’s where it gets weird–or maybe obvious. The more I ponder the following point, the more obvious it seems. With fear of the countdown timer driving my day, I am sometimes finishing daily tasks before eight hours is up.

Instead of not getting done as much as I wanted to and working additional time to complete my tasks, I’ve created more desirable options. I can get some exercise. I can work ahead on tasks due later in the week. I can consider other projects I might want to take on. I can research something new.

Admittedly, not every day is a successful time management experience. But when it is, I feel like I’ve created more time.

Illusions

A wise man once said, “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.” My experiment with the countdown timer has made me realize that eight hours is a time span I’ve been trapped in because decades of traditional work environments ingrained the habit. Eight hours is an illusion.

There’s nothing magical about eight hours. If I’m diligent, I can sometimes complete my necessary tasks in less than eight hours and make better use of the remaining time. I work for myself, so I have the luxury of choosing to do more work, or to do something else entirely that I believe will enrich my life.

I’m in my 40’s. Time has become more important to me, since I’ve likely used up about half of what statistics suggest I’m allotted. Morbid? A little, but let’s be practical. Life is too short to be wasting time. A sense of urgency is appropriate. I want to spend my time well.

Sometimes, time well-spent will be eight hours of work. But often, time well-spent can be something else.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Here’s a short car video where I recommend shutting off notifications as a way to increase productivity. Spoiler alert. That’s pretty much the summary of the entire video, so you can save yourself the four minutes. Or…watch it to get the nuance. I’ll be okay either way. I’m not making money on YouTube ads.

Improve Productivity. Shut Off Notifications. - YouTube

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
Plugging Python Code Into Slack, Maybe For A Chatbot

The scripting language Python can retrieve information from or publish information to the messaging app Slack. This means you can write a chatbot that puts info into Slack for you, or accepts your queries using Slack as the interface. This is useful if you spend a lot of time in Slack, as I do.

The hard work of integrating Slack and Python has been done already. Slack offers an API, and there are at least two open source Python libraries that make leveraging these APIs in your Python code easy.

When searching for Slack projects using Python, most of the top hits are using Slack’s official python-slackclient. Github reveals that python-slackclient is an active project, with recent commits. In addition, most code examples I turned up are using python-slackclient. But it’s not a preference borne of experience. Maybe you’d prefer an alternate library like slacker.

Securing The Slack App Security Token

The slackclient library is security-conscious. Some other library sample code shows putting the Slack access token right in the source code as a static variable assignment, which is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea. Why? If you publish your source code in a public repository, anyone that trawls through it potentially has access to your Slack channel from their own app.

The slackclient library readme suggests the more secure token management method of using an environment variable to pass in a token to the Python script. Beyond this, the slackclient library also explains how to use automatic token refresh for key rotation. I haven’t grokked token rotation just yet, but it’s an interesting topic along with Slack IP whitelisting.

Creating A Slack App, Generating A Token & COnnecting Python To It
  1. I’ll assume you’ve got Python installed already. My environment happens to be Python 3.6.7 on Ubuntu Server 18.04.
  2. I’ll also assume you’re a sudoer, and are using pip as your Python package manager. Install Slack’s official slackclient python library.
    sudo pip install slackclient
  3. Now you need to create an app and generate tokens. You should be logged in as an admin to your Slack space. Then…
    https://api.slack.com/apps
  4. Check out https://api.slack.com/slack-apps for more information on this process.
  5. If you’re working on a chatbot, your app will need to be given bot functionality. There’s a screen for that in the app creation process.
  6. As you click through the app creation process and assign bot functionality, Slack will also generate OAuth access tokens. For Python, you care about the Bot User OAuth Access Token.
  7. Slack tokens are everything required for authentication to your Slack channel. Protect it like a password. Don’t hardcode the access token into your script as a variable value. A more secure process is to set the access token to be an environment variable, and pass the environment variable into your Python script. See below.

Armed with the token and slackclient library, your Python installation is now Slack-capable.

Example Code

I took this code right from the python-slackclient github readme page to make sure things were working without having to read any documentation.

  1. In Slack, I created a private channel called #pentabot to run my test in.
  2. I invited my shiny new app I’d called Pentabot to be a member of the channel.
  3. From my dev machine, I ran the following script with the following command, which creates the environment variable SLACK_BOT_TOKEN before executing the script. The script then reads the environment variable from os.environ[“SLACK_BOT_TOKEN”].
  4. SLACK_BOT_TOKEN=”xoxb-abc-1234″ python myapp.py
  5. Your token value is not going to be xoxb-abc-1234. It’s going to be whatever Slack assigned your app.
#myapp.py
import os
from slackclient import SlackClient

slack_token = os.environ["SLACK_BOT_TOKEN"]
sc = SlackClient(slack_token)

sc.api_call(
    "chat.postMessage",
    channel="pentabot",
    text="Hello, world! :boom:"
)
Result!

Last updated 18-Feb-2019.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

I use a dual-monitor setup. In my setup, the main screen sits centered directly in front of me. The secondary screen, which is slightly smaller, is off to one side. The real estate provided by the two screens gives me plenty of pixels across which to splash my applications–ample “screenery.”

I use my screenery productively when recording podcasts. I display a script, conferencing app, and recording tool without having to switch between them. Research productivity is also enhanced. I display a note-taking app front and center, with research subject matter like a video presentation, Kindle book, or PDF off to the side.

No Pixel Left Behind

Acres of screenery has benefits, but lots of screen space is also a potential distraction. I fight the desire to fill every pixel with an application. If I don’t use all the pixels, I must be wasting desktop space, right? I don’t want to waste my not inconsiderable investment in fancy monitors. Hmm. Sounds like an example of the sunk cost fallacy.

Desktop operating system developers have catered to my craving, adding sticky edges to windows that ensure not a single pixel is wasted. I can make my window edges stick to each other and the edge of the screen itself! That’s perfect!

Only, screens filled edge-to-edge is anything but perfect when there’s a lot of screenery to fill. A small laptop screen, where every pixel counts? Sure. There’s no space to waste. But in a dual-monitor configuration with bountiful space? I’m learning to resist screen-filling temptation.

The Lie That All Apps Must Be Tended In Real-Time

Of necessity, I am a Slack user. I interact with humans and Slackbot frequently as a standard part of my day. Although I carefully limit notifications, I leave a few notifications on to react in a timely way to people that might need me to weigh in. Lots of screenery means that I can keep Slack open all the time for near instantaneous reaction times to those important messages.

Which…is good, right?

Maybe not. Perhaps you recognize this common knowledge worker problem. Even with only carefully curated notifications making it through, chat apps are a distraction from the task at hand. Oh…a notification in my company’s #blahblah channel. I should check that!

Oops–flow state broken.

An App Windowing Strategy To Improve Focus

In a dual-monitor setup, carefully planned application placement can help avoid broken flow states, improving productivity. In my central monitor, I place the app (or perhaps apps) that are required to complete the task at hand. I do not cluster chat apps, email, or music players around the app I need for productivity, as these are distractions.

Instead, I put distracting apps in the side monitor. And then I minimize them.

1. Place productive work apps on your center screen. Ideally this is a single application–the tool you are using to create. A text editor. An IDE. The GUI you input information into. If it’s time to work on email, your email client. A web browser with minimal tabs open.

But there’s so much wasted screenery! I could pop my music player up in the corner and…

NO. Bad you (and me, to be honest). Resist the temptation to fill pixels with information that does not directly support the task at hand.

2. Place additional applications that directly support your creative work and need a lot of real estate into the secondary screen. For example, the output test screen for an application you’re developing. A report you must reference to support the piece you’re writing. A monitoring tool that helps you visualize changes you’re making.

What if there are no other applications that support your task? Then display nothing at all on your secondary monitor.

Nothing at all? You mean, a screen with nothing but wallpaper?

Exactly. And if pretty wallpaper distracts you, not even that.

Surely, my calendar can go over there…I’d hate to miss an appointment!

NO, bad you. Do you get notified before your next appointment through your operating system’s notification tool? Of course you do. You don’t need to check your calendar minute-by-minute. You’ll get an alert when you have somewhere to be.

Yeah, but my to-do list would look so good over there, and I could impress my boss when she walks by. And to-do lists are all about productivity, so it’s got to be okay.

NO, bad you. Task lists are to be used when you need to add a task, cross a task off, or get your next set of marching orders. They aren’t there to stroke your ego and make you feel good about how organized you are. Task lists are tools to help you maintain focus–not distract from your current task while you ponder the next ten tasks.

3. Minimize applications that are not directly related to the task at hand. For me, this is difficult. When I say, “NO, bad you,” in my points above, I’m foremost scolding myself. When applications are minimized, I experience the same fear of missing out (FOMO) that I feel when recovering from the addiction of checking social media.

What if there’s something crucial in my calendar? What if someone sends me a Slack message and I don’t respond to it in two minutes or less? What if I hear a really cool track in Spotify, and I can’t glance over and know exactly what it is? What if…

Stop. None of those things are crucial in the moment. All of those things can be addressed eventually, when you’re done the task at hand. Give yourself permission to minimize non-essential apps. To waste pixels. To let some screenery run free.

4. Minimize apps in the appropriate monitor. For example, keep chat apps, music players, and your calendar in the secondary monitor, but minimized. This drives home the point that non-productivity apps are not to be front and center when you’re looking at them.

Oh, I’m looking at my secondary monitor. I’m allowing myself to be distracted by this app I opened from the task bar. I’m using an app that I normally use in between tasks. I must be on a productivity break.

There is nothing wrong with taking a break. You need to be reasonably productive, not constantly. But, your goal is to get done with the non-essential apps, put them away by minimizing them to the task bar, and then get on with your next productive task. Minimize interruption to flow state so that when you are working meaningfully, the result is your undistracted best.

I don’t think you comprehend this multi-tasking world we live in. We’ve all got to multi-task. That’s how things get done, and I can do it! I’m great at multi-tasking.

I agree that multi-tasking seems inevitable. I don’t think we’ll ever get away from it entirely. Even so, perhaps the key is in not wishing for a distraction. In allowing yourself to be fully immersed in the topic that you’re working on.

The information universe tempts you with mildly pleasant but ultimately numbing diversions. The only way to stay fully alive is to dive down to your obsessions six fathoms deep.

David Brooks in The Art Of Focus, NYTimes.com

Making screenery your friend can help you become totally immersed.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Getting work done is hindered by logistics. Logistics is work about work. It’s the work you do so that you can get something else done.

For example, there’s a workflow I use to create a podcast. Most of that work is logistical: creating a collaborative script document from a template, inviting guests to a recording channel, scheduling the recording, coordinating sponsor content, updating the production calendar, editing the episode, writing a blog post about the episode, and promoting the episode on social media.

Relatively little of the workflow is what I consider the meat of podcast creation: researching the topic and guests, writing interview questions, and recording the actual show.

I draw the line between logistics and meat by considering what I can delegate vs. what I need to do uniquely myself. Most tasks can be divided along this line.

Solving The Logistics Problem With Delegation

One way to boost productivity is to delegate logistics. Delegation frees up your time to focus on the remaining tasks requiring your unique skills.

Delegation comes in at least three forms.

  1. Humans.
  2. Software.
  3. Automation.

Some tasks can be delegated to other humans. In my case, I delegate many tasks in my business to consultants, contractors, employees, and my personal assistant. I still have to manage those relationships, and I have to compensate people for their time. Delegation doesn’t absolve me of task responsibility.

Delegating to other humans is challenging, creating process and interpersonal debt. You might welcome such a difficulty, but find that you aren’t in a position to delegate other humans. You still have delegation options.

In the digital age, delegating to software is self-explanatory–we all do this. As an aside, while I believe in delegating to software, I also believe in delegating software infrastructure. In my business, there is no advantage to be gained by hosting software myself. I delegate software hosting to a mix of SaaS and IaaS infrastructure providers.

Automation steps in where humans shouldn’t and software can’t. Tedious, repetitive tasks are best done by carefully programmed robots.

Software can’t predict all business workflows–businesses are unique, meaning software has limited task granularity out of the box. Software designers can’t create an overly specific product and still retain mass appeal. This is where automation steps in. Automation is the workflow layer on top of software that performs repetitive tasks quickly and predictably.

Delegating To Automation

In my own workflows, I’ve identified automation as the weak link. I’ve passed off as many tasks to other humans as appropriate. I continually review and revise my software tools. However, I don’t automate.

For instance, to prepare for a podcast recording, two of the steps are to create a Google document from a template, build a Slack channel, and invite the guests to both. Accomplishing this is a lot of predictable clicking and typing.

Google Drive has an API. Slack has an API. Why am I interfacing with Google Drive and Slack using the clicky-clicky GUI? Because it’s what I know. It’s easy. It’s time-consuming and error prone, but it gets the job done.

Automating these tasks seems too painful, because I don’t know how to write the code off the top of my head. I’ll have to read documentation, write some code, experiment, and fuss.

Will automating those document and channel creation tasks be worth it? The answer to that question comes in the form of time saved. How long does it take me to clicky-clicky and get these tasks done? Let’s say it’s twenty minutes. I don’t know exactly how long the actual clicking takes, and the reason is that there’s more time to account for than the click time.

There is also distraction time.

When I go into the standard Google Drive UI to create a document, I see a myriad of other folders and documents related to projects I’m working on. I’m reminded of other tasks I need to complete. The temptation to move orthogonally into another task is significant when my to-do list is long.

The same distraction exists when looking at Slack. Even though I squelch almost all notifications, opening the Slack interface to work on channel creation and invitations can take me far afield.

Because of distractions, twenty minutes becomes thirty or forty. Distractions eat the day away. Distractions cut into productivity. Therefore, automation isn’t simply about making clicks go faster. Automation is also about retaining focus by reducing distractions.

A script that gathers a bit of information from me can handle Google doc and Slack channel creation with a single command, instead of me performing a bunch of distractable clicking. Creating the script will be hard, but the result will be time saved and focus retained.

What about IFTTT or Zapier Instead Of Code?

What if I don’t want to read API documentation and write code? Might trigger-based tools like IFTTT or Zapier help? I believe the answer is “yes,” but there’s homework to do to know how much.

Historically, I’ve used both IFTTT and Zapier to automate straightforward tasks like posting to social media based on a RSS feed trigger. However, I’ve found both Zapier and IFTTT, powerful though they are, to be constrained. I can only execute the actions that they support, and the entirety of an platform’s API is unlikely to be exposed to an IFTTT recipe or Zapier zap.

Therefore, I’m leaning toward Python as a programming tool with comparatively infinite flexibility. With learning time invested in APIs, I can write Python scripts to do any action I need.

Writing my own code offers another interesting possibility: chatbots. That is, I can log a chatbot into Slack and issue automation commands to the chatbot from the Slack interface. This is desirable from a business workflow perspective, because it means actions are logged in an observable Slack channel, keeping the other humans I work with in the loop as to what automated work is being done.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

This piece was originally published in the Packet Pushers’ Human Infrastructure Magazine, a publication about the human side of working in technology. HIM is sent every other week or so to Packet Pushers Ignition members. Sign up for free.

I recently tweeted…

I’ve become okay with only having so much time in my schedule. Would adding this { new | random | unexpected } thing to the mix stress me out? Yes? Then I can’t do it. Have to leave some space. Have to execute well on the things already on the list.

I grabbed a couple of replies that especially impacted me.

Cutting Things Loose Has A Cost

The hard part for me is deciding when to cut things loose in order to make room for new things that are more valuable. Sometimes it’s natural, like a job transition, but most of the time it’s not. I’d rather make intentional choices, not wait until I’m burned out. Of course, often the major problem with intentionally stopping a project is the social cost. Disappointing people is expensive for multiple reasons. And it’s very difficult to weigh that against the benefit of doing something new.

@bensons

Benson crammed a whole lot of value into that reply that had me nodding my head in agreement and reflecting.

Cutting things loose. Identifying what’s most valuable is difficult. For me, the key is distinguishing what’s valuable to me versus what’s valuable to someone else. In my work, I’ve found that other people are happy for me do things for them that might not be the best use of my time.

My best work is found at the junction of projects I am uniquely capable of accomplishing and projects with the most substantial impact to others. The rest can be outsourced or cut.

Managers often use the desks of competent employees as a dumping ground. Respectfully pushing back can help. You’ll drown in an ocean of trivial tasks if you never speak up.

Not waiting for burn out. I recently realized that I’ve worked most of my career in a state of burnout. I’ve usually had one full-time job with an employer and one part-time job working for myself.

Technology work is stressful. Technology often works poorly, impacting businesses negatively. Add certifications to the mix, and it’s a formula for burn out. I’ve cycled through this formula repeatedly.

I don’t willingly live that way now. Although Packet Pushers has been my full-time job since 2015, travel became the side job. Since recently curtailing travel, I’m no longer constantly fretful or exhausted, i.e. burned out.

I didn’t realize I was living in this burned out state until I reduced my schedule and started feeling better. I was so used to feeling badly, that feeling good was a revelation. I didn’t even know I was sick.

Disappointing people comes with a cost. I am fearful that when I tell someone “no” or “no more” that I’ll alienate them. Sometimes, that’s exactly what happens. It’s a risk.

There is an upside to disappointing people, though. You get a manageable schedule. A manageable state of mind. A manageable life.

Being able to manage my life has become important. In recent cases where I’ve said “yes” to something I didn’t really want to, I regretted the time it took from my schedule and the energy it sapped from my life. I also resented the person that asked me to be involved. That’s not a productive mental state.

The Importance Of Margin

Margin is great as we go through different mountains and dips of life. Not always possible but I strive for it all the time.

@jonesychris

Chris says it well. Margin. For the first time since being a college-bound teenager, I have had holes in my schedule where there was nothing I had nor needed to do.

Don’t misunderstand–my project list is full. I have over 100 tasks representing projects large and small. But there’s a difference between a task list that represents opportunity and one that represents obligation.

If I have the margin Chris strives for, I can chase opportunities. If I have no margin, my life is overfilled by obligations, leaving no space for the opportunities. By reducing the obligation load created by travel, I’ve capitalized on opportunities.

Where Does This End Up?

I’ll experience burnout in the future, I’m sure. I’d be lying to myself if I thought I was in such control of my life that I’d never again be overextended.

However, I’ve remembered what feeling good is like. I’m not eager to let that go.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

I recently came across a simple idea that is having a positive impact on productivity. That idea is to not reply to everything. While this can be applied to social media broadly, I’m focused on email management here.

For me, not replying is more difficult than it sounds. I am a personality type that doesn’t like loose ends. I like to meet other’s expectations, and have them think cuddly, happy thoughts about what a swell person I am. I know that when I send an email, I hope to get a response. Therefore, when I receive an e-mail, my natural inclination is to respond.

Too cuddly?

Now, I don’t feel I overly waste time on replying to email. I’ve improved my response technique over the years. I bring an e-mail thread to a conclusion as rapidly as possible by anticipating and proactively answering questions. That’s more time-consuming than a quick, lazy “back to you” response, but saves time in the long run.

However, an advance on the proactive reply is never replying at all. Not responding is the ultimate way to bring an email thread to a conclusion.

You’re So Rude

On the surface, ignoring inbox messages seems rude. However, I don’t think that’s necessarily the case.

  1. People who email you are asking for your undivided attention. What is your relationship to that person? Do they merit such attention from you? Family, co-workers, customers, managers, etc…potentially, they do. Someone who might only know you because they stumbled across you through Facebook or the wiki server at work? Not really.
  2. Time spent answering email is time spent not doing actual work. Most email is not actual work, even though it seems like work. Distinguishing between time-wasting email and actual work is admittedly hard, as email is woven into the fabric of many organizations. But like project status meetings, email is too often a poor substitute for getting actual work done.
  3. Email almost never results in a product. Email is not a tool used to make anything. Design doesn’t happen in email. Creation doesn’t happen in email. In fact, email often doesn’t result in much of anything but time ticking off the clock.
Let’s Not Get Too Crazy

You might be pondering your specific company, and just how much of your workflow is tied to email. Obviously, it’s not possible to completely ignore all email. But how many email threads that you get CC’ed on really require your input? How many silly things are sent to you in an email simply to get an LOL? How many inbox messages are, in actuality, pointless?

As my quest for email control continues, I’ve realized that most messages that land in my inbox do not require a reply from me. I like to reply to messages and instinctively want to reply. But I don’t actually need to reply many times.

When I choose not to reply, I’ve removed a distraction from my day.

How To Decide What To Reply To

Choosing which messages to reply to is a personal matter. I make my decisions in the context of time.

  • I do not respond to messages that are ultimately a waste of time.
  • I do respond to messages that directly benefit the things I need to get done. Those messages are not a waste of time, because they are tied closely to something I am trying to achieve.
Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

During the last month or two, I’d gotten into a habit of trawling through Imgur, looking for memes I could spin into humorous tweets about networking. It became a game to see what tweets I could create that people would find funny.

That game was successful, in that I had many tweets that were liked and/or retweeted dozens or, in a few cases, hundreds of times. But there was a downside. I was spending a lot of time on Imgur seeking inspiration. I was also spending a lot of time composing tweets and checking reactions.

I Hurt Myself Today

This led to the familiar cycle of Internet addiction. I was hooked on Twitter…again. I’ve been through this with Twitter off and on for many years now. My use of Imgur was also obsessive, opening the app on my phone multiple times per day and scrolling, scrolling, scrolling while looking for new fodder.

Using social media in the context of addiction is subtly different from simply wasting time. Addiction, for me, means using social media when I didn’t plan to. There’s a compulsion that would drive me to fire up Tweetdeck and check out all of my carefully curated columns, review mentions, and review performance statistics.

The issue isn’t just the time used. It’s also the issue of interrupting whatever it was that I was working on. Interruption takes me out of flow, reducing productivity for the day.

Engineered Synaptic Engagement

Lest you think I’m just a whiny bugger with a personal problem, the issue is far deeper. Social media is meant to hook you and compel you to click. It’s not merely a recreational activity that an unfortunate few lose control of like compulsive gamblers or alcoholics who can’t tame their vices. Andrew Sullivan wrote the following in New York Magazine.

“Do not flatter yourself in thinking that you have much control over which temptations you click on. Silicon Valley’s technologists and their ever-perfecting algorithms have discovered the form of bait that will have you jumping like a witless minnow. No information technology ever had this depth of knowledge of its consumers — or greater capacity to tweak their synapses to keep them engaged. And the engagement never ends.”

http://nymag.com/selectall/2016/09/andrew-sullivan-my-distraction-sickness-and-yours.html

Even more disturbing, I’m not entirely certain how addicted I was. I knew I was going through days of not getting nearly as much done as I thought I should have. I’d grind away for ten or more hours with seemingly little to show for it.

I knew I was dropping out of flow state when checking the socials, but it seemed like checking here and there shouldn’t have been so impactful. Again, Andrew Sullivan offers a clue.

“A small but detailed 2015 study of young adults found that participants were using their phones five hours a day, at 85 separate times. Most of these interactions were for less than 30 seconds, but they add up. Just as revealing: The users weren’t fully aware of how addicted they were. They thought they picked up their phones half as much as they actually did.”

http://nymag.com/selectall/2016/09/andrew-sullivan-my-distraction-sickness-and-yours.html

For me, using my phone was one part of the issue, but the primary screen I interact with is my Mac workstation. So, I had a couple of issues to resolve if I wanted to break the cycle of addiction one more time.

My phone is easy to resolve. I don’t run any social media apps for the most part anyway, so I just removed Imgur. That broke that habit.

Staying Focused With Stayfocusd

The workstation is more of a challenge, as I spend most of my time working in the Chrome browser. Hitting Tweetdeck is just too easy. To help with this, I’ve employed the Stayfocusd extension for Chrome.

Stayfocusd has a lot of features, but I have kept it simple so far. I went into Blocked Sites, and added linkedin.com and twitter.com. That handles LinkedIn, Twitter, and any subdomains that might be under them such as tweetdeck.twitter.com.

There’s another feature of Stayfocusd I really like, which is that the blocks don’t have to be absolute. Because I operate a media company, I do actually need to check the socials now and again. People communicate with us using Twitter and LinkedIn. But I’ve found I can do all the checking I need to do in two minutes.

I like the “max time” feature because I can do the minimal scan of Twitter mentions and LinkedIn notifications I need to without getting mired down in mindless scrolling or checking stats. The two minute limit keeps me honest while checking, and also curtails the number of times I kick off a social session.

But Does It Work?

What’s the end result of all this? Stayfocusd is a good addition to my social media defense arsenal. I’m back in my groove of getting a lot done in a sitting. Being able to focus more deeply and for longer periods of time. More flow state productivity.

I don’t think Stayfocusd is an absolute cure. That will only come when I delete my two remaining social media accounts. But for now, I’m pleased that Stayfocusd has assisted in breaking this latest cycle of addiction.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Everyone Creates

A challenge for people who make things is living in a world where everyone else makes things, too. On the Internet, everyone seems to be making something they want you to consider and approve of.

Sometimes, that Internet creation is as simple as a tweet or Facebook post. Like it! Share it! Retweet it! More complex creations, like this blog post, are still easy enough to make and share that there are likely hundreds of new articles you might be asked to read in a week.

If you were to carefully keep up with everything you subscribe to or follow, your mind would never have time to itself. You’d never be able to think your own thoughts. You’d be too busy chewing on the thoughts of other people.

Overconsumption

For this reason, I believe constant consumption damages productivity. Designers, architects, artisans, writers, and other creators need time to think through what they are making. Writers need a subject and word flow to clearly communicate. Technology architects need to deeply consider the implications of their designs from multiple angles.

Deep consideration takes contiguous blocks of time. Achieving a flowing state of mind takes uninterrupted time. Thoughts build one on another. The implications of an idea and impact on related ideas need opportunity to find one another. Only when the mind is able to consider a single topic without other topics being constantly introduced can this happen.

I have been contemplating this as I consider the inputs in my normal routine. At the moment, I’m not allowing myself enough mental space, and my productivity has struggled. This weighs on me as my company is in the process of creating a platform meant for the sole purpose of delivering deep technology content.

A Broken Mirror

How I can create such content if my mind is usually in a broken mirror state, challenged by outside thoughts and ideas all of the time?

I listen to one or more podcasts daily. Most of the podcasts I listen to are heavy, requiring focus. I take in some amount of social media. I am a member of 17 Slack groups that I am aware of. I do not keep up with most of them, but Slack is an input I contend with. I am an avid reader, lately reading at least 3 hours a day. I also have meetings, phone calls, my inbox, etc. that are inputs I need to process.

If I prioritize inputs, I do not have any space left to think my own thoughts. And yet, I need space. I need silence. And I need that space and silence in large enough blocks of time that I can create effectively. That I can be productive.

In short, I need to spend less time taking in what everyone else is making. On days when I leave space to ponder my own projects, they progress. On days when I fill my brain with constant inputs, I do not.

Read Full Article

Read for later

Articles marked as Favorite are saved for later viewing.
close
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Separate tags by commas
To access this feature, please upgrade your account.
Start your free month
Free Preview