Categories
Applications Publishing Useful stuff

Silence is not necessarily golden for Evernote

I’ve been an Evernote user for well over a decade, and I used it daily until a couple years ago. I have almost 29,000 notes (a fair number of these notes are automatically captured using IFTTT workflows).

In recent years, Evernote has been pretty quiet on its blog, and while it’s released updates to the app, I haven’t felt like this is a dynamic company, constantly working to evolve it’s product. This has been a little disconcerting, as I have a lot of data in Evernote that I have been storing there intentionally.

At the moment, there isn’t another service like Evernote that uses this notes and notebook model to capture different content types into a pretty flexible reference system. I use Google Drive to store a lot of my stuff too, but it doesn’t feel as fluid to me.

I’ve also been experimenting with a private WordPress.com site too. I think this option is pretty close to Evernote, and even has some benefits that Evernote lacks because WordPress uses web technology (it is a publishing platform after all), so it opens the door to much richer content embeds, and formatting.

Still, short of an importer from Evernote to WordPress, or another suitable alternative, I’ve stuck with Evernote. It’s the simplest solution, even if Evernote becomes a historical reference service for me.

That being said, it was encouraging to see this video from Evernote’s current CEO about how they’ll be giving us insights into what’s happening behind the scenes, and what they’re working on:

I don’t know what lies ahead for Evernote. My Premium subscription is up for renewal next month, and I’m pretty sure I’ll renew, at least for another year. For now, though, I’m looking forward to see what they have in the pipeline. It might just tempt me back into more regular use.

Categories
Business and work Coding Useful stuff

Tips for being productive on GitHub

I spend much of my day interacting with GitHub in one form or another as part of my day job, even though I’m not working at Automattic as a software developer. Between coding little scripts to make me more efficient, and managing or contributing to work-related projects, I use GitHub daily.

This is why I enjoyed Darren Burns’ post titled “8 Productivity Tips for GitHub” that he published on his blog, and on Dev.

GitHub is built with some extremely helpful shortcuts and productivity-boosting features. From personal experience, however, it’s clear that these often fall under the radar amongst developers. If I’ve ever witnessed a specific GitHub feature surprise or assist someone, then that feature is on this page. That said, what follows is by no means an exhaustive list.

Darren Burn

If you’re also a bit of a productivity geek, and spend time in GitHub, you may find some useful tips here.

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Categories
Applications Business and work Mindsets Useful stuff

A vague Notion of a more productive system

I spent a little time in my Pocket recommendations, and found this great post by Marie Poulin titled “One Tool To Rule Them All” and her, and her partner’s search for a more effective, more complete productivity solution. Along the way, she considered Bullet Journals.

I wanted to get on the bullet journal bandwagon, but the sheer inefficiency of hand-drawing the same lines, shapes, numbers, and tasks week after week, and month after month made me twitchy.

Looking at some of those bullet journal masterpieces made me wonder, how much of bullet journaling is just…productivity porn? Are people creating entirely separate accounts for their bullet journaling as a creative outlet, or to distract themselves from actually getting shit done?

Marie Poulin

I’ve been curious about bullet journals, too, but I found myself having similar doubts about how effective the method would be for me. I much prefer digital productivity tools, largely because I’m really apprehensive about having a productivity solution without a backup and sync option.

Also, I really have to watch out for my tendency to go down a complete “productivity tool testing” rabbit hole, and literally lose days testing solutions without actually getting anything done.

Poulin and her partner settled on tool called Notion, that looks pretty promising. I like how flexible the service seems to be. I like how Evernote uses a notebook metaphor with fairly free form notes as a way to capture information. That said, I don’t seem to use Evernote all that much lately (for a couple reasons).

If you do think that Bullet Journal is the option for you, definitely read Jamie Rubin’s post titled “Bullet Journal: One Book to Rule Them All“:

I recently began using a Bullet Journal. Longtime readers who recall my going paperless days might find this odd. My going paperless experiment was just that–an experiment to see how far I could go without paper. Eventually, I decided that there were good reasons (for me) to continue to use paper. I’ve been carrying around Field Notes notebooks for years. I use notebooks for work, and large Moleskine notebooks for my journal/commonplace book. So why a Bullet Journal, and why now…?

Jamie Rubin

For the time being, I’m clinging to a semblance of productivity with Remember the Milk as my main task list. Now and then, I’ll use Evernote to add a task to RTM by syncing between the two services.

The benefit of this approach is that it enables me to associate a task with a note containing relevant materials. Like most things in my life, it’s very much a work in progress that’s hampered by my erratic discipline.

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Categories
Business and work Mindsets Useful stuff

A desperate plea to MS Office lovers everywhere

Dear MS Office lover

Although I don’t see the appeal*, I understand that you love using Microsoft Office for your daily tasks. It seems like pretty good software, and if it helps you become more efficient, then that’s terrific.

Anyhoo, I’ve noticed that many of you have a tendency to do some interesting things with MS Office in order to share things with the rest of us. For example, to –

  • share images by adding them to your Word documents;
  • paste bits of text into other Word documents, and then emailing them;
  • create PowerPoint slides for newsletters; and
  • take notes in Excel spreadsheets*.

Another Pro tip is not to send Word documents by email, unless you want to collaborate with someone, and intend for them to edit the document and send it back. If you’d like to share a letter by email (consider just sending the text as the email), save the Word document as a PDF instead. It will look the same on every device that can read it. Unlike Word documents*.

I’m a big fan of using your tools to do cool, interesting things. I’m also a fan of using a tool appropriately. Striking a balance between these two isn’t always easy, and erring on the side of innovation is a good thing, too.

That said, it’s also important to think outside the box here. MS Office isn’t the sum total of what’s available to you.

If you need to share a snippet of text in an email, paste it into the email. If you need to share an image, please don’t add it to a Word document first. Just attach the image, like you were planning to do with the Word document containing the image to your email.

Email is cool like that, it can handle so many types of content.

Oh, if you prefer writing your blog posts in Word, remember that copying and pasting into your blog editor of choice can carry across Word’s silly formatting too. If you happen to be using the Classic editor in WordPress, read this guide to stripping out that formatting cruft so your posts look the way they’re meant to.

If you’re using the new WordPress Editor (aka Gutenberg), you should be able to just paste your text, and the editor will remove that extra stuff automatically.

So please, please, rethink how you use use your MS Office tools for the sake of our continued sanity. It’s the productivity equivalent of “Be kind, rewind”.

*On the few occasions I use conventional office productivity software, I prefer using LibreOffice or Google Docs/Sheets/Slides, but that’s just my choice.

*Why not just use Word for this?

*But, seriously, just add the text to an email and send it directly. It works far better.

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Categories
Business and work Useful stuff

Getting Stuff Done with Interstitial Journaling

Coach Tony’s post titled Replace Your To-Do List With Interstitial Journaling To Increase Productivity is a pretty interesting take on productivity.

During your day, journal every time you transition from one work project to another. Write a few sentences in your journal about what you just did, and then a few more sentences about what you’re about to do.

Rather than just working through a list of tasks in your task manager, the idea seems to be to maintain an ongoing narrative of your day. A benefit of this approach is a pretty high degree of mindfulness.

Journaling as you work produces mindfulness about your context, goals, mood, and skills.

Another aspect of this approach that appeals to me is how it incorporates elements of the GTD approach to getting your stuff done. One of those elements is clearing your mind by getting whatever is occupying it out of your mind and onto paper (digital or physical).

The Interstitial Journaling tactic solves all of these normal problems. It kills procrastination, empties our brain of the last project, and then gives us space to formulate an optimal strategy for our next project.

When you write about the task you’ve just completed, and then about the upcoming task, you’re transitioning more fully from the completed task to the next task. At least, that seems to be the idea.

I also just like the idea of maintaining a pretty deliberate account of my days. This feels like something worth attempting, at the very least.

I’ve started incorporating Evernote into my Remember the Milk workflow through a handy integration, so Evernote seems like a convenient choice for the journaling too. I’ll try it out this week and see how it goes.

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

Categories
Mindsets Science and nature Wellbeing

Why you’re not a morning person (unless you are)

As it happens, I am a morning person. Our son definitely is. My wife isn’t a morning person at all and we’re not sure whether our daughter is, yet.

Whether you are a morning person or not, it apparently has a lot to do with genetics. Brian Resnick delves into why this is the case on Vox in his article titled “Late sleepers are tired of being discriminated against. And science has their back”.

A couple of weeks ago, I reported on the science of chronobiology, which finds we all have an internal clock that keeps us on a consistent sleep and wake cycle. But the key finding is that everyone’s clock is not the same. Most people fall in the middle, preferring to sleep around 11 pm to 7 am. But many — perhaps 40 percent of the population — don’t naturally fit in this schedule.

It turns out that this is also very much a cultural issue with the expectation being that people who are not morning people are somehow slackers. I didn’t think about it in those terms, probably because I tend to function better in the mornings (at least, once I’ve taken my meds).

Watch this Vox video titled “Late sleeper? Blame your genes” that accompanies Resnick’s article, perhaps with coffee while you wake up.

On a related note, it also turns out that so-called “coffee naps” are great ways to recharge during the day. I tend to nap for around 20 minutes and will do that if I have an opportunity because it works well for me.

Apparently, a cup of coffee right before a 20 minute nap could be just the thing you need to recharge and return to a much more productive state. According to Vox:

It’s counterintuitive, but scientists agree that drinking coffee before napping will give you a stronger boost of energy than either coffee or napping alone. To understand a coffee nap, you have to understand how caffeine affects you. After it’s absorbed through your small intestine and passes into your bloodstream, it crosses into your brain. There, it fits into receptors that are normally filled by a similarly shaped molecule called adenosine. Adenosine is a byproduct of brain activity, and when it accumulates at high enough levels, it plugs into these receptors and makes you feel tired. But with the caffeine blocking the receptors, it’s unable to do so. Here’s the trick of the coffee nap: sleeping naturally clears adenosine from the brain. So if you nap for those 20 minutes, you’ll reduce your levels of adenosine just in time for the caffeine to kick in. The caffeine will have less adenosine to compete with, and will thereby be even more effective in making you alert.

So, if you’re ever accused of being lazy or slacking off because you’re not a morning person or because you just want to have a quick nap and recharge, there is a body of science backing you up!

If you’re curious, also watch “How does caffeine keep us awake?“.

Image credit: Hernan Sanchez

Categories
Business and work Mindsets

Stop taking detailed notes in meetings

Making notesKhoi Vinh’s post titled “Remembering What’s Important After Meetings” touches on a better approach to participating in meetings and highlights a pretty useful IFTTT applet to facilitate that.

For one thing, taking copious notes in meetings isn’t always the best approach. You risk focusing too much on your notes and missing opportunities to be meaningfully participate in the meeting and just be present.

Instead, he recommends making note of the meeting highlights afterwards:

This advice absolved me of the pressure I previously felt to write down everything. Without that distraction, I’ve been able to generally stay more focused and absorb more of what’s said in meetings. And with fewer notes, the act of searching them later becomes much easier too.

I tend to take a lot of notes in meetings and capture those notes into Evernote afterwards for future reference. I prefer handwritten notes because I’ve read that handwritten notes tend to be more conducive to actually absorbing what you are writing about.

As useful as it is to have comprehensive notes of your meetings, I’ve also noticed that other meeting participants tend to find it a little frustrating sitting opposite someone who seems to be writing down everything they say instead of being part of the conversation.

Something to think about in my next meeting.

Image credit: Stickler Mule

Categories
Business and work Devices Mindsets

Critical steps to get things done when you clearly lack focus

We live in a wondrous technological age that also makes it harder to get things done. This is a challenge when you have a lot of things to do. Obviously.

Fortunately there are a few steps you can take to be more productive. Here is my list for tomorrow morning.

Step 1: Silence reminders

I love that I can set, snooze and gaze fondly at reminders on my phone. I also really like how Google Calendar can help me schedule time to achieve goals such as learning Hebrew, how to code in Python and do my weekly reviews.

It’s all great.

The problem is that these reminders tend to chime at the same time when I am in the middle of some or other task. That is mostly my fault because I don’t really think through the timing for my reminders when I set them.

My first step is going to be clearer about when I need to block off time to finish a task. With that done (possibly by blocking off the time in my calendar), I can set my reminders for “unreserved” times.

Step 2: Email should know its place

I know better than to keep checking email throughout my morning whenever my phone informs me that I have received more email. Sadly, I have forgotten the importance of batching this sort of stuff.

Email, calendar defrags and task batches (or "How Gina Trapani could preserve my sanity")

My next step is to remind myself to keep my email tabs closed until I reach my designated time slots dedicated to checking my email and other batch-able tasks.

Step 3: Be antisocial

I should have paid attention to Catherine Jenkin’s Facebook/Twitter hiatus. She clearly had the right idea.

https://twitter.com/cathjenkin/status/852071262914531328

Although I am tempted to take an extended break from social media, I probably won’t. What I can, and must, do is severely limit how much time I spend on social when I need to focus on my work.

I am also going to keep WhatsApp and Skype closed. Yes, people contact me through those apps and some of those conversations are even work-related. But do I need to keep the apps open all the time and check them obsessively? Probably not.

I can batch this stuff too.

So, step 3 is resisting the idiotic urge to open Facebook/Twitter/Google+ (yes, it is an equal opportunity, time-wasting urge) when I should be focused on the task at hand. That goes for WhatsApp and Skype too.

https://twitter.com/cathjenkin/status/856187110784675840

Step 4: Quiet, you beast!

One of the biggest culprits is my phone. It notifies me about everything. My phone finds everything just so exciting that it has to tell me immediately.

Lacking discipline and willpower, I pull my attention away from what I am working on and check my screen far too often. Each time I do that, I break whatever flow I’ve managed to cultivate and cost me additional time restoring my focus on what I was doing in the first place.

This sort of thing does not constitute “winning” when you need to get things done.

Fortunately, my phone has a handy “Do Not Disturb” mode that silences notifications from anyone outside my family members. It also silences incoming phone calls, which can be a challenge in itself, but the benefits may outweigh the downsides.

Step 4 is going to be to switch my phone to “Do Not Disturb” and cut out most of those little interruptions that pour in throughout the day.

Note to self (2017-04-26): Create an exception for event notifications so you don’t inadvertently miss the important, scheduled events you need to attend!

https://twitter.com/cathjenkin/status/856187258839457792

Right, so that is the plan for tomorrow and, quite possibly, all the other work days that follow.

I hear that it can be pretty rewarding when you actually get things done when you mean to.

Featured image credit: Veri Ivanova