Are you master of your bitstream?

Matt's Idea Blog: A conversation with Mark Hurst, web usability expert and author of "Bit literacy":

"Mark stresses that the book is not just about email and getting the inbox to zero (a major change for most of us). It's about managing effectively all the bitstreams coming into our lives. Mark says the world has changed, but most people haven't caught up yet - the always-on lifestyle, urgency, and haste make us neither effective nor sustainable. Here's how he puts it:

Five, ten or twenty years from now, the bits will increase exponentially: email, web, phones and PDAs. Without proper training, users everywhere will face an increasingly urgent problem of overload. Now is the moment to learn bit literacy. It's like getting in shape on a slow-moving treadmill before it speeds up to a sprinting pace."

The man is a productivity animal!

The Holy Grail: How to Outsource the Inbox and Never Check Email Again | The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss:

"Here’s the upshot: I get more than 1,000 e-mail a day from various accounts. Rather than spending 6-8 hours per day checking e-mail, which I used to do, I can skip reading e-mail altogether for days or even weeks at a time… all with 4-10 minutes a night."

This is super cool

Reason Magazine - Hit & Run > Surplus Commodities and 1940s Hats:

"The Library of Congress just announced that it has put up 3,000 public-domain photos on Flickr and enabling tagging by all comers. It's a pilot project that could someday be extended to the 14 million photos in the collection."

Something cool to play with

A New Way of Mind-Mapping | Mysterious Flame:

"On the wall of our copywriter’s office, I saw something on her whiteboard that made me take notice. “Nice spider-web,” I said. She explained to me what it was: a sort of modified mind-map called UNO, short for UNiversal Organizer, developed by Paul Borzo, a teacher and writing tutor at Metropolitan State University in Minneapolis/St. Paul."

My Forster Admiration Continues

I literally finished reading Mark Forster’s How to Make Your Dreams Come True just a few moments ago and wanted to put some thoughts down and share them in public.

The title of the book makes you think it’s yet another get-rich-quick ripoff that promises far more than it can possibly deliver. But in reality it’s actually a very profound, moving book about the meaning of life, the role of the individual, and how we should spend our time on earth. It’s only possible to appreciate these qualities by reading the whole thing, because the book was written in a unique way, using a dialog technique that created and developed the themes as Forster was writing.

I think the book spoke to me so well because it is very much in keeping with my own background and beliefs. Forster combines a comforting, down to earth, practical Englishness with a very American understanding of the value of self-interest and creativity. As a first generation American of English parents with individualist leanings, it touched me deeply. Mark, thank you for this gift.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled irony.

Cri de coeur

Once, long ago (actually last year), when I was young and impressionable, I was seduced by the siren’s song of Levenger’s beautiful, expensive Circa system. The paper was luxurious, the pictures in the catalog were sensual and filled with leather clad offices and crackling fireplaces. I succumbed, and dropped a couple hundred bucks on the stuff.

But since then, after getting frustrated with all those little smurfs and flaps, I’ve returned to my senses and my roots - my beloved Trapper Keeper roots. Today the productivity tool for me is a humble three ring binder.

You don’t have to buy any special equipment to use it. Most offices already have a three-hole punch. You can even buy packs of pre-punched filler paper or glued pads on sale at office supply stores during back to school season for less than a dollar. You can punch smaller pages with just two holes instead of three. You can include customized forms, checklists, typed notes, and articles from the Internets easily, without having to futz around with margins and complicated templates. You can seamlessly combine the analog and digital.

See here my friends: Behold my efficient, flexible, couldn’t-live-without-it, less-than-three-dollars binder (which is actually a Staples brand presentation folder, which I use because it’s light):

It’s not beautiful, but I use it far more often than I ever used my Circa stuff. It’s a little big, but it makes it to work and back just fine. I transfer unneeded pages to other binders for storage (Four binders for $6 at Staples!) and keep only the current stuff with me.

Circa, I hereby proclaim, is a fraud. A fraud I tell you!

Talk amongst yourselves.

Little and Often - Mark Forster Part Two

When I was a kid, I had a little metal coin bank with motivational sayings on the side. One that stuck with me is "Little and often fills the purse." I think it meant that steady saving, no matter how small the amount, makes a big difference in the long run.

Productivity guru Mark Forster applies this bit of wisdom to projects, particularly ones that you’re procrastinating about. As he says in my new favorite book: Do It Tomorrow,

"For almost any initiative, the route to success is regular, focused action.”
It’s not exactly a revolutionary idea – GTD recommends a similar approach with its focus on “next actions” – but I’ve found his advice surprisingly productive in my own work.

As I wrote yesterday, one way to make progress on "high resistance" tasks that you’ve been avoiding is to work in small, non-threatening, timed bursts. In Do It Tomorrow, Forster shows how he puts this into practice while writing. He sits down for a specified period of time – half an hour, say – and just starts putting stuff down on paper. The first session results mostly in an outline. The second starts to flesh it out a bit. The third might result in a few actual complete sentences.

In each case, he doesn’t get freaked out about stopping because he knows that another draft will come soon. In between sessions, his mind gets a chance to process what he’s written and think of new ideas. He also fools his mind by using a timer and stopping as soon as it rings. The idea is that by stopping work regardless of whether you’re "done" – in the middle of a sentence for example – you leave your mind wanting more. The mind likes completion, he says, and stopping in the middle of something makes you more willing to work on it the next time.

Short bursts of focused action are also valuable, says Forster, in completing tasks or projects that are past due - what he calls a "backlog." The idea is that you pick something that needs to be done, that you might ordinarily not get around to, and do it first thing in the morning. You work on it for as long as you can, every day, until it’s done.

I’ll talk more about backlogs and current initiatives tomorrow. My timed burst is up.

The artiste at work

Here’s how any writing project starts for me:

Irrational Jennifer: Ok, I have to write something. But I don’t know where to start! Oh no, it’s going to be terrible! I have absolutely nothing to say!

Rational Jennifer: But you always feel this way, and you always come up with something eventually.

IJ: Yes, but I torture myself for days before! I’m insane! I can’t do it!

RJ: Why don’t you just jot a few ideas down?

IJ: But that’s just procrastinating! I need to WRITE. I should be able to draft brilliant, witty posts instantly. Otherwise, the world will end! Aw, fuck it. I’ll just go watch TV.

RJ: Why don’t you just jot a few ideas down?

IJ: I guess I can manage a few words. Hey, that’s not too bad! I could actually use that! I have so many brilliant ideas! This is going to be great! Why was I so nervous? I’m clearly a genius.

RJ: Now maybe write the first sentence?

IJ: Oh no, I can’t do that! It’ll suck! I don’t know where to start! I’ll just take a little break. I suck and I’ll never write anything again.

RJ: Just write the first sentence…

And so it goes. Over, and over, and over.

I’ll get going for a while, then stop. A few weeks will go by, and then, after much self loathing, I’ll manage to talk myself into writing for a few more minutes. Maybe I’ll actually have a deadline, which will make me finish something. The written piece will turn out great, and I will feel like a moron once more.

This post was begun precisely 11 days ago. I wrote down lots of ideas, and even came up with the beginning. But then I stopped, and I’ve been stewing about it ever since.

This time, I’m using a technique I learned from my new guru, Mark Forster, which he calls “little and often.” I spent precisely 19 minutes writing this. Spending time on this post was on my list of things to do today, and by God I did it. Tomorrow I will spend another 15 minutes and elaborate on Forster's idea, which recommends timed bursts of activity on “high resistance” tasks. I sure know about those.

Gotta get me a timer

My Favorite Productivity Trick:

"Here’s how I plan my day. I take a piece of paper, often scrap paper or a page in my capture notebook and write the date at the top of the page. I draw a line down the center. In the right column I write 'To-Do' and on the left I write 'Plan.' I write out all my to-do’s first. Then I plan out my day by inserting those to-do items into time slots."

How To Stay Focused For Greater Productivity - Dawud Miracle @ -:
"For every 60 minutes of the workday, I stay micro focused for 50 minutes. Then I get out of my chair, away from my computer and out of my office for 8 minutes (give or take). The remaining two minutes I settle back down in my chair, look over my next todos and look at what I can accomplish in the next 50 minutes. Then I’m off to the races again.

During my 50 minutes of focus, I do nothing except what is on my todo list. If I’m writing code, I code for 50 minutes. If I’m returning phone calls, I do that for 50 minutes. If I’m writing a blog post, I do that for only 50 minutes. I keep a timer running in the background with an alarm so I don’t have to watch the clock."

Dave's on the Teevee

Michael Dolan: David on Fox Business

I love this

An Eschatological Laundry List | Alex Shalman . com

1. This is it.
2. There are no hidden meanings.
3. You can’t get there from here, and besides there is no place to go.
4. We are already dying, and we’ll be dead a long time.
5. Nothing lasts!
6. There is no way of getting all you want...
Visit the original post for the rest.

I'm slowly learning this

Working In Close | 43 Folders:

I’m a nervous wreck. I’m a slob. I have no patience. And I’m rather lazy. All those things would seem to guarantee that I would not make work like I make. But I didn’t want to just go with my nature.

So instead of painting overwrought, expressive things when the mood struck, he committed to making his epic, close-up portraits by breaking the work into tiny pieces and hewing to a grid. Not only did the grid make technical sense, it forced a lifehack on Close that would help him deal with his own tendencies. It helped get the work done, sure. It allowed him a style that might not have been ‘natural’ to his disposition. & it also had other side benefits.

What I found that one of the nice things [about] working incrementally is that I don’t have to reinvent the wheel every single day. Today I did what I did. You can pick it up and put it down. I don’t have to wait for inspiration. There are no good days or bad days. Every day essentially builds positively on what I did the day before. … Given my nature, I believe it was very good for me to be able to add to what I already had and slowly construct the final image out of these little building blocks.

Quote for the day

Intern: A Doctor’s Initiation - Sandeep Jauhar - Book Review - New York Times: "He learns to surrender some of his anxieties, a natural consequence of increasing competence, and to lower his expectations. “For most of internship, I had been tormented by an ideal, which I had to get rid of in order to survive,” he writes."

God knows I loves me some panic

26 Reasons Not to Use GTD - Make Money Being a Geek from Geekpreneur:

"22. Panic focuses the mind
We’ve already pointed out that most people naturally prioritize their work by waiting till the important stuff becomes urgent, then panicking and getting on with it. If GTD works, then you’ll lose the focus that panic can bring. And if it doesn’t, why do it?"

Mine would be the peanut M&M method

Academic Productivity - How to complete your PhD (or any large project): Hard and soft deadlines, and the Martini Method:

"What I call the Martini Method is named after an anecdote I once read about the novelist Anthony Burgess (of Clockwork Orange fame). Burgess was a very productive writer, which is attributed to a system where he would force himself to write a 1000 words a day, 365 days a year. When he had completed his word count, he would relax with a dry martini, and enjoy the rest of the day with an easy conscience, and normally in bar."

Not sure about this, but it's interesting.

How to Use a Notebook to Make 2008 the Best Year Ever -

"Once a topic comes to mind, write it on your notebook and stop thinking about it. You’ve put it on your list so that you won’t forget the topic. You’ve put it on your list to clear you mind of that issue, thought, concern, action item ‘to do’, discussion, etc. Do not replay full discussions. If one comes up, write the topic and hit “pause” on your mental replay."

Note to self

Two Simple But Powerful Rules to Achieve Financial Freedom | Life Optimizer:

"From what I learn, what we should do to achieve financial freedom can be boiled down to two rules:

1. When you work, work to build a system
2. When you buy, buy an asset"

I need to do this

Creating a backlog (or how to deal with a long task list) | blog to discovery:

"I have written out my task list to the end of December on blue paper to highlight it is not my current task list and made it a closed list by drawing a line below the last task so the backlog can not grow any longer. On the 2nd January I started with a completely clear task list and each day as I plan my day I work on one item from my backlog as the current initiative."

The colored paper is genius, genius I tell you!

An alternative to New Years resolutions

ask the Career Counselor — Helping you Navigate the Career Landscape:

"Forget New Year’s Resolutions.
Admit it: you never keep them anyway, right?

Instead, consider wrapping the whole next year in a wonderful theme for your life or business."

Happiness is without

Actually, happiness isn't within - Yahoo! News:

"So, at the dawn of another new year, I say: Stop looking for the new you and, instead, book a flight. Or better yet, call a friend."

Scheduling redux

Two interesting posts today about scheduling tasks:

You're in good company. | TimeBack Management:

"Mike Durney, the CFO of Dice Holdings, wanted to handle work related to the company's London office in the morning so that staff over there didn't have to work into the evenings. Unfortunately, morning meetings sometimes got in the way, forcing him to call or email London later. His new approach for 2008? Schedule his work: setting aside blocks of time for email and investor calls. He also vows to turn off his email alerts so that he doesn't get pulled into email when he's not supposed to."

The Problem of Not Scheduling - The 2Time Mgt Blog:
"The problem with only having a list (or lists) of activities is a simple one — it is too easy for a list to grow out of proportion to the time that one has available when it’s not scheduled into a calendar."

Hear hear!

IA THINK: Looking back at three years of Getting Things Done:

"I remain convinced that the value of GTD, at least for me, is not in getting more done. It's in living an uncluttered existence, which helps me feel mentally more relaxed and focused."

Big Think

The New York Times profiles Big Think, the "YouTube for Ideas" today. Check it out, starting with this one about the value of modest, incremental change.

Do It Tomorrow

My favorite band, the White Stripes, is based on the idea that limits enhance creativity. They generally stick to three-part schemes – black, white and red; guitar, drums and vocals – and believe that imposing artificial structures on themselves forces them to find new ways to make music.

Mark Forster’s book, Do It Tomorrow explores this idea from a productivity standpoint, recommending that we impose limits on ourselves in order to manage the stream of incoming work, email, interruptions and paper that we deal with so that we can create buffers for ourselves and think before we act.

These days, buffers are more important than ever. Information comes at us so quickly that we either find a way to filter, examine, and deal with it or risk being buried under an enormous pile of email, blog feeds, paper, voicemails, text and instant messages, and meeting notes. Buffers and limits are a matter of survival. We need to build walls, slow down, and create systems that allow us to spend our time and attention wisely.

GTD is an important tool in this struggle, but I think many of its adherents, myself included, still find themselves at a bit of a loss. We are told to complete our two-minute actions and choose from our contexts on the fly, which risks leaving us at the mercy of our already-strained attention and energy. Do It Tomorrow, on the other hand, provides us with concrete tools and ideas for reducing interruption, combating procrastination, and making sure our time is spent on the things that matter.

I don’t want to give too much away, because you should really read the book, but I will share a few of the deceptively simple tools Forster suggests. First, there’s the big one, in which you measure out a day’s work for yourself by dealing with things in a batch. Everything that absolutely doesn’t have to be done today is put off for tomorrow. Today is reserved for yesterday’s incoming work, email, voicemail, and paper. Since yesterday is over and no more work can be added to the batch, you know exactly how much you have to do, and how many other tasks you can count on doing today. Interruptions and urgent requests may come up, but at least you have a plan that is in keeping with your priorities and goals.

Here’s an example. I read a selection of RSS feeds every day for this blog. They’re kept in a folder in Google Reader. In the morning, I go to that folder and read all the posts from yesterday, starring the ones that I think I might like to post about. I then go back to my starred items and winnow them down, finally deciding on the ones that I will use. I post about them, and I’m done for the day. No longer is blog posting an overwhelming, never-ending task. There won’t be any more to deal with, because yesterday is gone. I do the same with my email and any paper mail or receipts that accumulated yesterday. Mark Forster’s techniques have given me a concrete and practical way to measure out a day’s tasks and deal with them.

I’ll explore more of Mark’s ideas in future posts, but for now I strongly recommend that you buy the book, and visit his Web site at

Memento Mori

Starting a New Year with Death | PickTheBrain: "Reading the obituaries is a constant reminder to me that our time is limited; a reminder for me to appreciate life, to love life."

Someone's been reading my journal

PsyBlog: Schopenhauer's Extreme Self-Help for Pessimists: "Here are some practical suggestions Schopenhauer put forward for managing ourselves:

* Live in the present, making it as painless as possible.
* Make good use of the only thing we can control, our own minds.
* Our personality is central to our level of happiness.
* Set limits everywhere: limits on anger, desires, wealth and power. Limitations lead to something like happiness.
* Accept misfortunes: only dwell on them if we're responsible.
* Seek out solitude, other people rob us of our identities.
* Keep busy."

True dat

Brad Isaac asks:

"Are you resisting examining one or two of the goals on your list for some reason? You might even feel like defending a particular goal. That defense is a signal - you need to pay attention and write it down."

Taking a test run

Bruce Keener reminds us of an important consideration:

"If you retire too early, that is a mistake you can recover from. If you retire too late, there is no recovery."
He describes the process he used to decide to retire, and how he learned the importance of testing out a big life change before you make it.

One Bucket to Rule Them All

LifeClever ;-) says:

As soon as I dumped all my tasks into one bucket, I felt a sense of peace. There, before me, were my tasks. A mountain, perhaps, but mountains can be climbed.
I go back and forth on the question of contexts and how to organize lists. Sometimes I like one big list of everything on my mind, sometimes I like separate lists that pull out just the things I'm focusing on right now. I've experimented with various contexts and formats, and I think the thing to remember is that re-calibration is a good thing. That's what the Weekly Review is for. Every different method of organizing tells you something new about your work. Just be sure that you're not spending more time organizing than you are working.

Work is a necessary evil

The always-perceptive Ryan Norbauer says:

"I invite you then, patient reader, on a desultory First Night journey with me as I take our mutual favorite hobby—the idle navel-gazing contemplation of productivity—to its most absurd yet logical conclusion: to ask whether eradicating the need for achievement itself might not be the key to happiness in work."
He asks us to consider "the pleasures and benefits of mediocrity." Dude, I'm with you there. GTD and my navel-gazing contemplation of productivity is something I do for fun, not because I care about climbing the corporate ladder and buying myself a Beemer.

I just want to make a living in a way that is pleasurable and productive, and make the most of my free time. David Allen, at least, never argues that the point of GTD is to help you work harder. Instead, he wants to help us spend our time advancing our values and goals. If your goal is to "Pour yourself a glass of port, cuddle up in front of the fire with a book that you’ll probably never finish, and chill," GTD can help by getting you to the couch faster.