Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Summary

What does all this say about me, and why have I settled on these methods?

. Organizing is fun for me in and of itself.  Much of what I do revolves around organization. Perhaps it's not always the most efficient to go through all these steps, but it sure is fun!

2. As I reflect on these methods, one key concept comes up: Context Switching.  Humans are poor at context-switching. That's why the advent of the assembly line had such a positive impact on production; it allowed individuals to focus solely on a single task.

Everything I do allows me to stay within a single context when either doing work or consuming content.

By the time I'm going through a particular list within Clear, I will be presented with a very specific set of information.  

By the time I'm going through a particular label within Gmail, I will be presented with a very specific set of information.  

If I need to find a recipe I've seen before, I know there is a single place to find it: Evernote.

By the time I'm going through a particular folder within Instapaper, I will be presented with a very specific set of information.  

By the time I'm going through my Watch Later playlist in YouTube, I will be presented with a very specific set of information.  


3. Our brains are highly evolved computers. If you view your brain as a computer, there are many things you can do to optimize use of brain RAM, CPU, etc.

I will list things to bring to work, or what I'm going to eat for breakfast, or whether or not I'm going to pack a lunch. I will list these in Clear and always the night before. Why?  While I could likely remember most of them, if I put them into Clear, I ensure I will always remember 100% of them. The technology frees my mind (or RAM) from remembering them.

Whenever I receive an email notification of an email to pay, I'll use Boomerang to return the email to my inbox the day before the bill is due.  While it makes financial sense not to pay a bill until its due, many people will probably pay it when they get the initial email (often 15-25 days before the due date), just so that they don't forget to pay it.  Boomerang makes sure I never forget.

If you send an email and don't receive a reply, it can be easy to forget to revisit the email for a long time (our brains do a poor job of estimating "how long it's been"). Boomerang lets me rely to emails in a timely manner.

While our brains are capable of reading a business article from within Twitter, then viewing a video, then searching Gmail and then Google Drive for a recipe, then checking to-do lists within Gmail, Evernote and Clear, why make them do that?  If you view your brain as a CPU, you can use it in a more optimal way by giving it a steady stream of one type of information, and switching to other types of information less frequently.

4. Do things better than they have been done before.  Okay, this is going to be corny and cheesy in many ways.  Pete Carrol's Win Forever method has this as a tenet "Do things better than they have been done before."  There are many things in life that don't have a big impact, but are often done sub-optimally. Here are a few:
  1. Waiting too long to cull old food from the fridge can result in unpleasant smells or messes, ruined Tupperware, etc.
  2. Returning overdue library items results in fines.
  3. Going too long without changing sheets can result in many unpleasant outcomes.
  4. Forgetting to pack a lunch for work results in paying money for lunch.
  5. Forgetting to pay a bill could result in late fees and/or negative impacts to your credit score.
  6. Forgetting to use expiring gift cards and vouchers or take advantage of deals, promotions, giveaways leads to missing out on stuff.
  7. Forgetting to bring a dish to a potluck results in VIOLATION OF SOCIAL CONTRACTS
  8. Forgetting to buy kleenex means results in you using toilet paper and paper towels
  9. Forgetting to buy toilet paper results in..............
  10. Forgetting to buy groceries can lead to increased spent money on eating out
  11. Forgetting to have the address of a destination saved can result in being late.


Not being prepared always results in lost time, lost money or lost resources. Even if you can't quantify the 10 minutes you spent looking for something, you have lost resources. Some of the effects of being unprepared are very tiny, to the point of not mattering. However, if you have the ability to mitigate or eliminate these effects, why wouldn't you?

In sum:
1. I love to organize
2. Humans are bad at context switching
3. Our brains are highly evolved computers
4. Do things better than they have been done before.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Online Content

I love to read about many topics, and also love to view videos.  Here's how I find, manage, curate and consume online content.

Finding content:
Twitter - I use Twitter extensively. I don't follow many people, but instead add them to one of eight lists I have set up.  Using lists allows me to selectively view content.  I rarely click on links in Twitter to read articles or view videos.  I save them to Instapaper.

Flipboard - My Flipboard usage rises and falls.  Just like Twitter, I don't read articles or view videos from within Flipboard. I save them to Instapaper.

YouTube - If I have a lot of free time on my hands, I'll look at my Recommended Videos in YouTube, or I'll go through my subscription channels.  This probably happens monthly or a tad more often.

Managing Content:
Instapaper - Almost every link I end up consuming finds its way into Instapaper.  (I never used Pocket). All the links flow into Instapaper into the "Read Later" view.  I will file links away into two folders: "Videos" and "Sports."  That leaves everything else in the "Read Later" view.  I'll click on the links there and read articles.

I'll do the same from the "Sports" folder when I'm in the mood for that.

For the "Videos" folder I'll try and move and YouTube videos to my YouTube account, into the "Watch Later" playlist.  I do this because you can click a single button on a YouTube video and boom!, it's in your playlist.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Email

I'm definitely an introvert, gaining energy from spending time by myself.  I'm also not very outgoing.  Both of those facts lead to a high reliance on email, and a fastidious way of managing it.

Gmail
I use Gmail for my email.  While I've used the OS X Mail app in the past, it doesn't offer me anything that Gmail doesn't.  I do use the iOS Mail app to view my gmail account.

Labels: I rely heavily on labels.  Almost every email I receive gets labeled.  I have about 10-20 labels.  Some emails get multiple labels.

Priority Inbox: I don't use the priority inbox. I want to be in total control of my labels.

Stars: I rarely use the stars. Since everything is labeled, I leave important emails in my inbox, which serves as a psuedo "star."

Boomerang: I rely heavily on Boomerang, a utility that allows you to do 2 powerful things: return emails to your inbox at a specified time (kind of like what the Dropbox owned iOS app Mailbox does), and it allows you to schedule emails.  Here's why those features are important to me.

1. I can schedule the return of an email to my inbox at a specified time. I can have it return only if no one replies to the email. Both of these features allow me to follow-up on emails, without having to actively remember what I need to follow-up on.  Most time people will initially ignore and forget about emails. Boomerang allows me to follow-up within the exact time I want to.

2. It can schedule the sending of emails.  This may not seem very important, but there are times when you've composed an email, but don't want to send it quite yet. Rather than having to remember to send it at a later time, simply schedule it and it gets sent for you.

Combine the two main functions of Boomerang, and you can compose a follow-up email, to be sent ONLY IF your initial email doesn't get replied to.   Oh, you also get read receipts, so you can see if someone may be ignoring you, or if they simply haven't opened the email yet.

Random Extensions
I dabbled with the extension MailFred, but never got anywhere with it.

I dabbled with the contact add-in Rapportive, but didn't find it useful.

Revisiting Sent Emails
Whenever it pops into my mind, I go through my sent emails, and make decisions about whether to delete the thread, or to send a follow-up email.

Search
Because of Gmail's great search functions, you can easily find emails of a certain kind and make decisions about them.  For example, while I may want emails about my Amazon shipments while the shipments are en-route, I don't need those emails forever. I can do a simple search and clear out all old emails.

Since every email gets a label, I can keep my inbox clear, while easily finding relevant emails. Boomerang enables me to stay on top of things that need to get done.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Tasks and To-Do Lists

After a lot of tinkering and switching over the years, here's where I'm at:

Clear
My main task/to-do manager is Clear. Clear is an iOS and OS X app. It's extremely simple, with no deadlines or dates, and no ranking system. The only way it manages priority is by order. That's it. If something needs to be done before something else, simply drag it higher on the list.

Clear is gesture based, with simple gestures on the touchscreen (or with the mouse) to complete tasks, delete tasks, or add tasks.

Clear also has lists, enabling you to further organize work into lists. I choose to keep my lists very simple. I have three lists: Personal, Quizzing, and Shopping.  Any task that doesn't fall into the latter two buckets automatically goes into the first.

Because Clear has an OS X app as well, I can type lengthy tasks into that interface. Everything is synced through iCloud. You don't have a Clear account with Clear usernames or passwords or anything like that. Ultra simple.

Pros of Clear: Very simple (clear!), gesture based.

Cons of Clear:
It doesn't support recurring tasks, so if you have recurring tasks like paying bills or buying groceries, you have to enter them anew each time.

You can't import data into Clear. So let's say you have a long grocery list someone emailed you for a party, or a long packing list you composed on the computer; there's no easy way to get that data into Clear. You have to enter it manually.  Clear does support copy/paste, which can make things a tiny bit easier.

OneTask
I also use OneTask. OneTask is an OS X app. It's power lies in only displaying a single task (which should be your highest priority task). Often times we mistake activity for productivity.  OneTask helps you focus on a single tasks and follow it through until completion. Once you hit complete, the next task is displayed.  You have the ability to "snooze" tasks for a specified time interval.

Pros of OneTask: Helps you stay focused on a single task.

Cons of OneTask: There is no accompanying iOS app.

Other Programs
Beyond those two programs, I use many other programs for note taking, document creation and storage, etc.  I use Google Drive, Google Docs, Evernote for iOS, OS X and Chrome web app, Notes app on iOS, Tasks in Gmail and Reminders in iOS.  However, I've been increasingly limiting my usage of these sources for task management and prioritization.

I've completely discontinued using the Notes app in iOS and Reminders in iOS. I also dabbled with Wunderlist (mainly because it has apps for every platform), but I never really got going with it.

I store any notes in Evernote.  Evernote has powerful search functions, which allow me to find the data I'm looking for.  In the past I've stored recipes and other data to save in emails I've received. I've been getting rid of these emails and transferring the information to Evernote.

If any data falls into the Notes or Tasks category, I make sure I'm not storing it in Google Drive.

Summary:
I use Clear for 95% of my task work.  For the times when I need to be extra focused, I'll use OneTask.

Scott's Methods of Organization and Utilization of Technology

I'm a person who likes to be organized, likes to be prepared, and likes to be efficient. Because of these personal tendencies, I have evolved the ways I manage data in my life.  I'm going to list how I stay on top of things in three main areas: Tasks/To-Do lists, Email, and Online Content (links, articles, videos, etc).

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Here's Looking At You Volvo


When I got my drivers license back in high school, my dad bought a 1986 Volvo 240 sedan for me to drive, but not to own. It was a wonderful first car, metallic blue, built like a German tractor, and full of character. When the car was bought it was nearing 20 years old and had over 100,000 miles. Yet, true to the Volvo name it ran like a well-oiled tank, purring along with such vigor that heads turned.

After my initial year at Hope College in Holland, Michigan I wanted to have a car at college. The ladies were clamoring for my company and the Max bus in Holland didn't cut it. My parents gifted me the Volvo and I prepared to drive from Seattle to Holland. My good friend Nate offered to fly out from Ohio, get his first taste of the Pacific Northwest, and accompany on the drive back to Michigan. Despite many doubting Nate would actually follow through (for the record, I never doubted), Nate showed up at SeaTac airport in mid August of 2006 (2007?). I showed him the wonders of Seattle, including the Space Needle, Pike Place Market, Red Mill Burgers, the original Starbucks, and Gorditos, the mouth-watering Mexican food spot in Greenwood.

We planned for our trip by googling the random and planned to stop and see the giant Paul Bunyan and Blue, the 20-foot tall Groundhog, and other similarly inane sights.

As we set out for our trip we spied some free junk by the side of the road. Or at least it appeared as junk at first glance. Among the castaways was a green plastic garden gnome. He promptly went into the back window of the Volvo and was named Gordito. Gordito has ridden in my Volvo ever since.

Nate and I had a fantastic road trip, never eating at a chain (our pact), visiting Mount Rushmore (breathtaking), and driving through the barren heartland of America, often shirtless and sporting bandanas like the college kids we were.

Since then the Volvo has taken three trips across the country. My little brother Matt rode along one trip (he got the Volvo to 100 MPH in Wyoming while I was asleep). My dad joined me for the other two trips.

I've always loved road trips and those were some of the best.

The Volvo provided many "fun" experiences in Michigan, due to its rear wheel drive, low power and non-snow tires. I spun out twice, once on a lonely night with my brother in the car. The other time was much more memorable, as I was driving three other Baker Scholars to the airport on our way to San Francisco. After spinning out on M-31 in Michigan, we found ourselves in the snowy median, pointed towards oncoming traffic. Jon, Travis and I got out and pushed the car, while Melyn drove and got it facing the right direction. From there we waited for a gap in traffic, and slowly made out way to the airport, to the delight of the rest of our trip mates. Upon returning home the Volvo was frozen into its parking spot (but we got out that too).

Lovingly nicknamed "the juggernaut" by me, the Volvo took no prisoners on the road, twice being rear-ended with little to no damage to the Volvo, but much damage to the other cars. It lived up to its billing as a sturdy and safe car. Also due to its girth and weight, the Volvo had a hard time getting going, but once going, momentum made it beastly. I loved powering around Lower Wacker, imagining I was an extra in the Dark Knight.

Even though it's such an old car, the Volvo had many amenities that belied its age. It had heated front seats, cruise control, power windows and locks and a sunroof. Not all of that worked, and less worked over time, but cranking the sunroof open was always an enjoyed novelty in the summer.

The car required a decent amount of upkeep on ancillary issues, but never needed significant repair. It was mostly reliable and likely saved me from injury in those two accidents.

So why am I waxing poetic about my beloved Volvo? As of this week I have a new car, a 2006 Toyota Corolla. The Volvo is being donated to a local charity. It's been a good run.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Why I’ve always wanted to buy an Apple iPad, but haven’t yet (and likely won’t)



I’m an Apple guy. My family first owned an Arche Deluxe 486 computer than I played Hooops, Mavis Beacon and Where in the world is Carmen SanDiego on. Our next computer was an iMac.

I’ve owned 3 Apple laptops (2 MacBooks, 1 MacBook pro), 2 iPods (original, Touch), and 2 iPhones (4, 5). I’ve gone through about 15 pairs of Apple earbuds. I’ve got various cables: Firewire to Firewire, Firewire to USB, USB to Apple connector, USB to Lightning, USB/Lightning adapter, wall chargers, battery packs, DVI to HDMI, Mini Display to HDMI, etc, etc, etc. All that to say, I love Apple and their products.

However, when it comes to the iPad, I just haven’t been able to justify the purchase. They’re quite costly as a secondary device ($600+), even for the Wi-Fi only versions.

Viewing video and pictures on the Retina screen would be amazing, but I’m not sure how much I really NEED to view those media types on the go.

I utilize the Microsoft Office suite a ton. Keynote and Pages are nice, but the lack of compatibility is a huge drawback. Working with Excel on the tablet is not much of an option, and a more difficult experience than on a laptop. This is really my biggest complaint with the iPad.

I already own a MacBook Pro and an iPhone 5. It’s hard to see where the iPad fits in between them. Both of my devices are portable, with great battery life. I do tons of reading on my iPhone (Twitter, Facebook, Flipboard, Summly, Pulse, Instapaper, Wikipedia, iBooks) and am fine with the screen size. If I really need to view content on a bigger screen, it’s easy to access Instapaper or starred tweets on my MBP.

I definitely agree that the iPad is fairly priced, very functional, and an amazing device. It just fulfills very few extra needs of mine when it comes to mobile computing. If my salary increases twofold I’ll likely pick up an iPad in a heartbeat. But currently, I’m very content with my two, incredible devices.

Idea for Apple iOS, or any mobile operating system for that matter.



The ability to have dynamic screens: you could bring all applications with notifications to the forefront. You could bring the applications with the most usage time to the forefront. You could put data hogging applications on a secondary screen to keep data usage down. You could bring certain types of applications to the forefront automatically, based off what is happening to the user: if GPS detects travel, bring transit, mapping and directions apps to the forefront. If a user enters a mall, bring shopping apps to the forefront. If a user makes a phone call, bring social media apps to the forefront. The options are endless. The result is a user who spends less time accessing relevant applications.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Let markets reign

Governor Christie and New York State leadership are the ones to blame for the crazy long lines for gasoline in New York, and not Hurricane Sandy. Here's why.