Archive for productivity

Some Thoughts

So this blog is getting updated a little more frequently – hopefully, you are finding some useful tips. At this stage, I’m still a mere squidling (undergraduate), so you’re getting a lot of redirects to other awesome things instead of novel ideas, but that’s how life works. Hopefully I’m guiding you to the right places.

My elbow is healing up gradually – I can rotate my wrist almost entirely and my arm can almost straighten. Twisting my arm remains difficult. The progress is promising, but I still can’t lift more than two pounds. Perhaps in two weeks I can meet up with deCycles in Lexington and finish the last 3 days of the ride.

It’s not too bad being back in Bloomington. This weekend I started earnest work on the paper for InPhO. Right now I’m articulating how AI should be used to augment human feedback, without superseding it. I’ve also been working on some user interfaces and came across a really good Google Tech Talk, “Don’t Make Me Click“. Aza Raskin does a great job of emphasizing the importance of minimalist design and of doing as much as possible for your users. I found it worth the hour.

I’ve also been researching polyphasic sleep. Basically instead of sleeping 8 hours in a row, you have a shorter period of “core sleep” and then take 20 minute naps throughout the day. There are variations ranging from 6 hours of core sleep with a 30 minute nap in the day (Biphasic) to no core sleep and 6 20 minute naps throughout the day (Uberman) and a bunch of middle ground (Everyman). The less extreme versions are more pretentious ways of explaining what people do anyways, but the uberman concept is a fascinating extreme. Steve Pavlina has an interesting journal on adopting the uberman (day 30) (day 120) (going back). My roommate seems to have accidentally adopted the everyman system last year.

This month, I’m going to adopt biphasic sleep as my “thing” (although it seems this is how I naturally react to the school year). My only concern with adopting a true polyphasic sleep schedule is physical activity. No reports seem to have a regular exercise routine, and with 150+ miles of biking per week, I think core sleep may play a larger role in muscle recovery. For more findings on sleep, monitor my sleep tag on Delicious.

Some (public domain) visualizations of sleep patterns from Wikipedia:

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Firefox Extension Mania!

This month I discovered Firefox extensions! I really hate bogging down my browser, but these are incredibly useful. Know any others? Link it in the comments!

LeechBlock (extension)
This is the best productivity extension ever. It allows you to list a few domains to block (,,,, …) and set up a time period to block them. BUT it also has an option to allow limited access. I have it set up to allow me on my sites for 10 minutes an hour. This keeps me on task, but allows reasonable distractions to clear the mind. It is important to check the “Actively block these sites” option, as that will redirect any already open tabs to these timesinks. I like redirecting to this undistraction page.

GreaseMonkey (extension)
GreaseMonkey is one plugin that I’ve actually stopped using, because it does tend to slow down browsing and can be used maliciously. However, some people may find FB Purity useful. It hides all the annoying quiz applications from showing up in your Facebook newsfeed!

KeyConfig (extension)
KeyConfig is a small extension that allows you to rebind and create new keyboard shortcuts. Things I have done:

  • full screen to F2 – much more convenient placement
  • Evernote Web Clipper to Ctrl+E – much quicker note-taking, see more on Evernote below
    Add new key with this code:

  • sidebar to Ctrl+B – quick distribution of cool sites through Twitter
    Add new key with this code:
    content.location = “javascript:var%20e=document.createElement(‘script’);e.setAttribute(‘language’,’javascript’);e.setAttribute(‘src’,’’);document.body.appendChild(e);void(0);”

  • any bookmarklet can be added with:
    content.location = “(bookmarklet code)”

Since I got my netbook, my cloud computing presence has grown exponentially. Syncing between the Sweetness and Little-guy just takes too long to set up and introduces an administrative task I don’t want to deal with. The following extensions increase the utility of the cloud exponentially.

Delicious (extension) (official site)
Delicious replaces my bookmarks menu with an easy to use tagging infrastructure and note taking system accessible through Ctrl+D. By putting my bookmarks on the cloud, I can access them from any computer (useful for continuing research projects in the library). The social networking aspect didn’t seem like a big deal to me, until I started actually using it. Typically our friends share our interests, so it’s not surprising that we would find their bookmarks interesting.

Finally, the Delicious plugin allows you to sync quicksearches across computers (tag things with shortcut:). I have a quicksearch setup to search my delicious bookmarks and to bring up my bookmarks by tag, dramatically increasing the utility of my bookmarks by limiting my search domain to sites I have already flagged as useful. (my quicksearches – feel free to save the interesting ones to your Delicious 🙂 )

Evernote (extension) (official site)
OneNote is a program that Microsoft just got right. Unfortunately, it’s Microsoft and I’ve switched to the Linux world. OneNote was integrated into every part of my computng life – anytime I would put a note into a little text file, it would get tossed into my OneNote instead (phone numbers, quotes, observations, guitar tabs, letter drafting, etc.). Win+N (new note) became my most used shortcut. It is sorely missed – but Evernote has done a respectable job of replacing it.

Evernote is like Onenote in a lot of ways, but it uses a tagging system in lieu of tabbed notebooks and is more ubiquitous, with native clients on almost every platform (Win, Mac, iPhone, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Web). Unfortunately, there is no native Linux client (the Wine version works, but it’s got some ugly buttons). How is it useful to have evernote on your phone? Notes on the go, recording song ideas for later use, taking pictures of receipts or things you want to reference later – the uses are legion.

Back to Firefox though – the web clipper is an awesome extension, as you can highlight any section of a site, click the elephant, and voila! it’s been added to your notebook with a link to the original source. Great for compiling research.

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Doin Thangs

I do a lot of things. I also have some major focus issues. This combination can lead to a lot of overwhelming stress from procrastination, and for a long time I lived bouncing from one task to the other as due dates arrived.

Last semester I finally discovered how to overcome these issues by forming small habits from the Zen to Done system. The most significant tip was that time management doesn’t involve rigid scheduling. Instead, time management is just smart planning. By focusing each week around a few “big rocks” and each day around a few “most important things” (MITs), my workload suddenly became manageable.

One of the key ingredients to following through with this system is tracking what we do in a day. It’s easy to look back on your week and say “I didn’t get anything done” without realizing the little things that were really accomplished. Joe’s Goals is a simple productivity website to help record progress. You create categories for what you do in a day (work, homework, reading, cooking, housekeeping, socializing, exercising, etc…) and when you spend a chunk of time working on that goal you just click on the box to add a checkmark.

For me, a check represents about 2 hours of work – a math problem set, a lab report, a 20-mile bike ride, 2 hours of chillaxing, grocery shopping, doing laundry… I’ve discovered that I can accomplish 4-6 things in a typical day. Any less than 4 and I’ve been wasting time, any more than 6 and I’ll burn out. In the morning I make a quick list of the five things I’m going to accomplish, and then do them. By recognizing I only have 5 slots in a given day I can actually accomplish everything in a week through good time management. If I have more things to do in a week than I have space for, I can prioritize and delegate before they become an issue, mitigating stress.

For inspiration, here are my categories:

  • homework (math and science homework)
  • reading (humanities homework)
  • work-work (consulting)
  • research
  • cook
  • house (cleaning, grocery shopping, etc.)
  • social
  • bike
  • self (journaling, reflection, etc.)

I also maintain 3 LogBooks:

  • wake (time I get out of bed)
  • what I did (note on what I did to earn each check)
  • sleep (time I go to bed)

We can also have negative categories to discourage our vices – mine is for skipping class. Each time I consider skipping the negative check makes me consider whether I am skipping out of laziness or because I really have something else to do to offset that check.

It’s a simple, elegant solution. I use Joe’s Goals because most of my work is online, but you can use the same system with old-school pen and paper, as Ben Franklin did. I still struggle with procrastination, and occassionally I get overloaded, but by adopting this system I’ve learned how to get things done.

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