Yet another online organizer

O'Reilly Radar shares news of another cool Web 2.0 organizer called Scrybe. I'm not cool enough, so I had to sign up for the beta waiting list.

"It's a mapping of the next 8 days of your calendar onto a piece of paper that, folded 8 ways, fits right into your pocket."

Meal Planning/Grocery Shopping Tip

Here's an idea for anyone who's in charge of meal planning and grocery shopping. Think about all the meals you usually cook, and write each one on an index card. For example, you'd have a card that says "spaghetti" or "meatloaf." Then, fill in all the ingredients you need to make that meal, like "pasta, tomatoes, onions, oil, basil, meat, garlic bread." Brainstorm everything you need to make that dish. Do you usually serve a salad with your spaghetti? Put it on there too.

Then, when you're planning your grocery shopping, shuffle through your cards and pick out the meals you're going to cook that week. Scan the card and check through your refrigerator and pantry to see which elements you need to add to your grocery list. I also made myself a card of our "staples" -- the things we need on hand every week, like bread, milk, etc. I scan it as I make my list to make sure we have everything.

I don't know about you, but I often find myself in the middle of cooking something and find out that I don't have an essential ingredient. Hopefully this new system will help me avoid those times.

Lessons I've learned from GTD

One of the most important things that GTD has taught me is to plan ahead. So often I would find myself in the grocery store wondering whether I had any onions. I'd either skip them, and find out I had none, or buy some, and end up with a dozen rotting in my pantry. I would hit the store on the way home from work and just buy enough for that night, because I couldn't be bothered to think beyond dinner. I ended up shopping several times a week, wasting time and energy, not to mention money.

When I finally started to "do GTD" properly, I realized the error of my ways and began shopping once a week. I go Saturday mornings, when I'm not hungry or in a hurry. I take time to actually look in the freezer and see what I have on hand. I think about what we're going to need that week and write a list. During the week, I actually eat what we have, rather than what I feel like at the moment. I don't buy twenty frozen dinners that end up sitting in my freezer until they're soggy and inedible. I buy five -- one for lunch each day that week.

Of course, this lesson permeates other aspects of my daily life as well. (GTD is not just about onions, y'know.) My next actions list often includes a "put xxx in the car" item, or a "make a list of things I need from Target" option. Having a meeting on my list makes me think about what I want to bring up at said meeting. What preparation do I need to do? What questions do I have?

Was David Allen a Boy Scout?

Resilience is better than anticipation

I read this article from Trizle, which reminded me of this.

I Googled "resilience vs anticipation."

I found an article by Chip Morningstar, which I thought would appeal to GTD/planning/organizational freaks like us. Here's a (long) quote:

My new religion, in the realms of project planning in general and software development in particular, is what I guess I'd call "hyperaggressive incrementalism":

Do really small steps, as small as you can manage, and do a lot of them really, really fast.

Don't do anything you don't have to do, and don't do anything that you don't have an immediate need for. In particular, don't invest a lot of time and effort trying to preserve compatibility with things that don't exist yet.

Don't try too hard to anticipate your detailed long term needs because you'll almost certainly anticipate wrong anyway. But be prepared to react quickly to customer demands and other changes in the environment.

And since one of the dangers of taking an incremental approach is that you can easily drift off course before you notice, be prepared to make sweeping course corrections quickly, to refactor everything on a dime. This means that you need to implement things in a way that facilitates changing things without breaking them.

Don't fix warts in the next rev, fix them now, especially all the annoying little problems that you always keep meaning to get around to but which never seem to make it to the top of your todo list. Those annoying little warts are like barnacles on a ship: individually they are too small to matter, but in aggregate their drag makes it very hard to steer and costs you a fortune in fuel.

Simple is better than complicated. General is better than specialized. But simple and specialized now is better than general and complicated some day.

With respect to software in particular, adopt development tools and processes that help you be resilient, like memory safe, strongly typed, garbage collected programming languages and simple, straight-ahead application frameworks (i.e., Java very good, J2EE very bad). I also favor rigorous engineering standards, ferociously enforced by obsessive compulsive code nazis. I sometimes consider it a minor character flaw that I'm not temperamentally suited to being a whip-cracking hardass. Every team should have one.

Writing things down is good, but big complicated specifications are of a piece with big utopian plans: too ponderous to be useful, usually wrong, and rapidly obsolescent.

In general, it is better to have a clear, simple statement of the goal and a good internal compass, than to have a big, thick document that nobody ever looks at. That good internal compass is key; it's what distinguishes a top tier executive or developer from the second and third stringers. Unfortunately, the only way I've found to tell whether someone is good in this respect is to work with them for several months; that's pretty expensive.

My bias at this point is to favor productivity over predictability. It's OK to have a big goal, possibly even a really big, visionary, utopian goal, as long as it's just a marker on the horizon that you set your compass by. Regardless of what plans you may have (or not), a productive process will reach the goal sooner. Though predictability is elusive, productivity, in contrast, is actually achievable.

My best finance tips

Cut up your credit cards
Sure, some of us can handle them, and you can get great benefits like rebates or airline miles, but for me credit is another word for magical thinking. No money in the bank? I’ll just charge it and think about how to pay the bill tomorrow! I always paid off my balance, but usually from my savings account. The ability to spend money I didn’t have was too much of a temptation, so I stuck my cards in the shredder.

Do your own taxes
Unless you have an extremely complicated financial situation, Turbo Tax can handle it. Don’t be afraid! Is the emotional comfort of paying someone $300 to fill out the Turbo Tax form really worth it?

Buy used cars
New cars immediately depreciate. Buy a nice, recent used car, preferably in cash, and put your money into something that actually increases in value.

Stick with index funds
You generally can’t beat the market. And if you find someone who does, they’re going to want to be paid for it. The likelihood of their expenses outweighing your gains is highly dubious.

Buy a house in Los Angeles in the late 1990s
The condo I bought in L.A. in 1998 was the single best investment I’ve ever made. It appreciated $400,000 in seven years, and I had a nice place to live in the meantime.

Keep it simple
Pay attention to your money, but don’t overdo it. I recently revamped my Quicken files to track only my day-to-day checking and savings accounts. That’s the money I have to watch. Everything that’s in retirement or other investments is best left forgotten.

Live a little
Pay attention to the big things and the little things will work themselves out. Your time is the only really limited resource. Don’t waste it driving all over town to find bargains or obsessing over every penny.

[This my entry into Dumb Little Man's Personal Finance Tip contest. Wish me luck!]

What world are you going to retire into?

All the money bloggers talk about retirement. How much should I save? Which investment strategy should I follow? How can I save more by reusing plastic bags? Should I turn off the burner after I’ve brought the spaghetti to a boil to save on energy costs?

But what if the world is going to change so radically that our current idea of retirement/old age is completely irrelevant? Thinkers like Ray Kurzweil, Joel Garreau, and Eric Drexler believe that technological innovations such as molecular nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and genetic manipulation are going to radically extend our lifespan, allowing us to live hundreds of years if not forever -- not to mention ending scarcity of all kinds and completely transforming our understanding of economics.

I once spoke with Christine Peterson, head of the Foresight Institute, at a conference. My boyfriend and I asked her if we should be saving for retirement, and she looked at us like we were insane. “Of course not!” she told us. She agreed that for now it’s good to have money, so we should be saving something, but argued that a better investment would be to spend resources on improving ourselves.

In a future where nanotechnology has ended economic scarcity, such thinkers argue, humankind will value intelligence, knowledge, skill, and creativity. With time and money scratched off the list of limited commodities, your personal reputation and ideas will be far more important than your Vanguard balance.

Of course, no one knows whether such a radically different future awaits us, or at least which one, but it’s well-worth thinking about. Read Radical Evolutionand let me know what you think.