Tag: productivity (page 1 of 4)

At the end of the day, everything in life is a ‘group project’

Everything is a group project

I like to surround myself with doers, people who are happy, like me, to roll their sleeves up and get stuff done. Unfortunately, there’s plenty of people in life who seem to busy themselves with putting up roadblocks and finding ways why their participation isn’t possible.

Source: Indexed

Forging better habits

I’m very much looking forward to reading James Clear’s new book Atomic Habits. On his (very popular) blog, Clear shares a chapter in which he talks about the importance of using a ‘habit tracker’.

In that chapter, he states:

Habit formation is a long race. It often takes time for the desired results to appear. And while you are waiting for the long-term rewards of your efforts to accumulate, you need a reason to stick with it in the short-term. You need some immediate feedback that shows you are on the right path.

At the start of the year I started re-using a very simple app called Loop Habit Tracker. It’s Android-only and available via F-Droid and Google Play, and I’m sure there’s similar apps for iOS.

You can see a screenshot of what I’m tracking at the top of this post. You simply enter what you want to track, how often you want to do it, and tick off when you’ve achieved it. Not only can the app prompt you, should you wish, but you can also check out your ‘streak’.

Clear lists three ways that a habit tracker can help:

  1. It reminds you to act
  2. It motivates you to continue
  3. It provides immediate satisfaction

I find using a habit tracker a particularly effective way of upping my game. I’m realistic: I’ve given myself a day off every week on top of two sessions each of running, swimming, and going to the gym.

If you’re struggling to make a new habit ‘stick’, I agree with Clear that doing something like this for six weeks is a particularly effective way to kickstart your new regime!

Source: James Clear

Unpopular opinions on personal productivity

Before Christmas, I stumbled upon an interesting Twitter thread. It was started by Andrew Chen, General Partner at a16z, who asked:

What is your least popular but deeply held opinion on personal productivity?

He replied to his own tweet to get things started, commenting:

Being super organized is a bad thing. Means there’s no room for serendipity, deep thought, can make you overly passive on other peoples’ use of your time, as opposed to being focused on outbound. (Sorry to all my super Type A friends)

I’d definitely agree with that. Some of the others in the thread that I agree with are:

  • 9hour workdays are a byproduct of the industrial age. Personal productivity takes a deep fall after grinding on work for 5hours. Office hours kill personal time and productivity (@lpuchii)
  • Going on a run in the middle of the workday (@envarli)
  • Use pen and paper for scribbling notes (@uneeb123)
  • No one else has my job nor are they me, so I can’t simply follow the prescriptions of others. To be more productive, I need to look for new ideas and test. What works for someone else may be antithetical to my work. (@bguenther)
  • Great ideas rarely come from brainstorming sessions. It comes from pondering over a problem for a significant amount of time and coupling it with lots of experiments (@rajathkedi)

As ever, about half-way down the lengthy thread, it devolves into general productivity advice rather than ‘unpopular opinions’. Still worth a browse!

Source: Andrew Chen (Twitter)

Creativity as an ongoing experiment

It’s hard not to be inspired by the career of the Icelandic artist Björk. She really does seem to be single-minded and determined to express herself however she chooses.

This interview with her in The Creative Independent is from 2017 but was brought to my attention recently in their (excellent) newsletter. On being asked whether it’s OK to ever abandon a project, Björk replies:

If there isn’t the next step, and it doesn’t feel right, there will definitely be times where I don’t do it. But in my mind, I don’t look at it that way. It’s more like maybe it could happen in 10 years time. Maybe it could happen in 50 years time. That’s the next step. Or somebody else will take it, somebody else will look at it, and it will inspire them to write a poem. I look at it more like that, like it’s something that I don’t own.

[…]

The minute your expectations harden or crystallize, you jinx it. I’m not saying I can always do this, but if I can stay more in the moment and be grateful for every step of the way, then because I’m not expecting anything, nothing was ever abandoned.

Creativity isn’t something that can be forced, she says:

It’s like, the moments that I’ve gone to an island, and I’m supposed to write a whole album in a month, I could never, ever do that. I write one song a month, or two months, whatever happens… If there is a happy period or if there’s a sad period, or I have all the time in the world or no time in the world, it’s just something that’s kind of a bubbling underneath.

Perhaps my favourite part of the interview, however, is where Björk says that she likes leaving things open for growth and new possibilities:

I like things when they’re not completely finished. I like it when albums come out. Maybe it’s got something to do with being in bands. We spent too long… There were at least one or two albums we made all the songs too perfect, and then we overcooked it in the studio, and then we go and play them live and they’re kind of dead. I think there’s something in me, like an instinct, that doesn’t want the final, cooked version on the album. I want to leave ends open or other versions, which is probably why I end up still having people do remixes, and when I play them live, I feel different and the songs can grow.

Well worth reading in full, especially at this time of the year when everything seems full of new possibilities!

Source: The Creative Independent (via their newsletter)

Image by Maddie

Working and leading remotely

As MoodleNet Lead, I’m part of a remote team. If you look at the org chart, I’m nominally the manager of the other three members of my team, but it doesn’t feel like that (at least to me). We’re all working on our areas of expertise and mine happens to be strategy, making sure the team’s OK, and interfacing with the rest of the organisation.

I’m always looking to get better at what I do, so a ‘crash course’ for managing remote teams by Andreas Klinger piqued my interest. There’s a lot of overlap with John O’Duinn’s book on distributed teams, especially in his emphasis of the difference between various types of remote working:

There is a bunch of different setups people call “remote teams”.

  • Satellite teams
    • 2 or more teams are in different offices.
  • Remote employees
    • most of the team is in an office, but a few single employees are remote
  • Fully distributed teams
    • everybody is remote
  • Remote first teams
    • which are “basically” fully distributed
    • but have a non-critical-mass office
    • they focus on remote-friendly communication

When i speak of remote teams, i mean fully distributed teams and, if done right, remote-first teams. I consider all the other one’s hybrid setups.

Using these terms, the Open Badges team at Mozilla was ‘Remote first’, and when I joined Moodle I was a ‘Remote employee’, and now the MoodleNet team is ‘Fully distributed’.

Some things are easier when you work remotely, and some things are harder. One thing that’s definitely more difficult is running effective meetings:

Everybody loves meetings… right? But especially for remote teams, they are expensive, take effort and are – frankly – exhausting.

If you are 5 people, remote team:

  • You need to announce meetings upfront
  • You need to take notes b/c not everyone needs to join
  • Be on time
  • Have a meeting agenda
  • Make sure it’s not overtime
  • Communicate further related information in slack
  • etc

[…]

And this is not only about meetings. Meetings are just a straightforward example here. It’s true for any aspect of communication or teamwork. Remote teams need 5x the process.

I’m a big believer in working openly and documenting all the things. It saves hassle, it makes community contributions easier, and it builds trust. When everything’s out in the open, there’s nowhere to hide.

Working remotely is difficult because you have to be emotionally mature to do it effectively. You’re dealing with people who aren’t physically co-present, meaning you have to over-communicate intention, provide empathy at a distance, and not over-react by reading something into a communication that wasn’t intended. This takes time and practice.

Ideally, as remote team lead, you want what Laura Thomson at Mozilla calls Minimum Viable Bureaucracy, meaning that you don’t just get your ducks in a row, you have self-organising ducks. As Klinger points out:

In remote teams, you need to set up in a way people can be as autonomously as they need. Autonomously doesn’t mean “left alone” it means “be able to run alone” (when needed).

Think of people as “fast decision maker units” and team communication as “slow input/output”. Both are needed to function efficiently, but you want to avoid the slow part when it’s not essential.

At the basis of remote work is trust. There’s no way I can see what my colleagues are doing 99% of the time while they’re working on the same project as me. The same goes for me. Some people talk about having to ‘earn’ trust, but once you’ve taken someone through the hiring process, it’s better just to give them your trust until they act in a way which makes you question it.

Source: Klinger.io (via Dense Discovery)

Configuring your iPhone for productivity (and privacy, security?)

At an estimated read time of 70 minutes, though, this article is the longest I’ve seen on Medium! It includes a bunch of advice from ‘Coach Tony’, the CEO of Coach.me, about how he uses his iPhone, and perhaps how you should too:

The iPhone could be an incredible tool, but most people use their phone as a life-shortening distraction device.

However, if you take the time to follow the steps in this article you will be more productive, more focused, and — I’m not joking at all — live longer.

Practically every iPhone setup decision has tradeoffs. I will give you optimal defaults and then trust you to make an adult decision about whether that default is right for you.

As an aside, I appreciate the way he sets up different ways to read the post, from skimming the headlines through to reading the whole thing in-depth.

However, the problem is that for a post that the author describes as a ‘very very complete’ guide to configuring your iPhone to ‘work for you, not against you’, it doesn’t go into enough depth about privacy and security for my liking. I’m kind of tired of people thinking that using a password manager and increasing your lockscreen password length is enough.

For example, Coach Tony talks about basically going all-in on Google Cloud. When people point out the privacy concerns of doing this, he basically uses the tinfoil hat defence in response:

Moving to the Google cloud does trade privacy for productivity. Google will use your data to advertise to you. However, this is a productivity article. If you wish it were a privacy article, then use Protonmail. Last, it’s not consistent that I have you turn off Apple’s ad tracking while then making yourself fully available to Google’s ad tracking. This is a tradeoff. You can turn off Apple’s tracking with zero downside, so do it. With Google, I think it’s worthwhile to use their services and then fight ads in other places. The Reader feature in Safari basically hides most Google ads that you’d see on your phone. On your computer, try an ad blocker.

It’s all very well saying that it’s a productivity article rather than a privacy article. But it’s 2018, you need to do both. Don’t recommend things to people that give them gains in one area but causes them new problems in others.

That being said, I appreciate Coach Tony’s focus on what I would call ‘notification literacy’. Perhaps read his article, ignore the bits where he suggests compromising your privacy, and follow his advice on configuring your device for a calmer existence.

 

Source: Better Humans

Why desk jobs are exhausting

Sitting, apparently, is the new smoking. That’s one of the reasons I bought a standing desk, meaning that most days, I’m working while upright. Knowledge work, however, whether sitting or standing is tiring.

Why is that? This article reports on a study that may have an answer.

Here’s the topline result: There was no correlation between the amount of physical work the nurses did and their feelings of fatigue. “In some people, physical activity is fatiguing,” Derek Johnston, the Aberdeen University psychologist who led the study, says. “But in other people, it is energizing.” The study also found that the nurses’ subjective sense of how demanding their job was of them was not correlated with fatigue either.

Instead, they found this small correlation: The nurses who were least likely to feel fatigued from their work also felt the most in control of their work, and the most rewarded for it. These feelings may have boosted their motivation, which may have boosted their perception of having energy.

Source: Vox

Microshifts are more effective than epiphanies

Interesting article about how to change your long-term behaviours. I’ve managed to stop biting my nails (I know, I know), become pescetarian, and largely give up drinking coffee through similar advice:

Any habit you want to build takes practice, and the recognition that you’re not going to accomplish it immediately. Whether it’s saving more money, or running a few miles, or learning about classical music, you’re not going to experience a dramatic shift and suddenly have $10,000 socked away, or be able to run a marathon, or know Mozart’s entire catalogue. But if you’re dedicated and commit yourself to something over a long period, microshifts will get you where you want to go.

Source: Brianna Wiest (via Lifehacker)

6 things that the best jobs have in common

Look at the following list and answer honestly the extent to which your current role, either as an employee or freelancer, matches up:

  1. Work that is engaging
  2. Work that benefits other people
  3. Work that you’re good at (and feel valued for)
  4. Flexibility in how and where you work
  5. A lack of major negatives (e.g. long commute, unpredictable working hours)
  6. The chance for meaningful collaboration

I would wager that very few people could claim to be enjoying all six. I’m pretty close in my current position, I reckon, but of course it’s easy to quickly forget how privileged I am.

It’s easier to see how remote positions fulfil points #4 and #5 than being employed in a particular place to work certain hours. On the other hand, the second part of #3 and #6 can be difficult remotely.

My advice? Focus on on #1 and #2 as they’re perhaps the most difficult to engineer. As an employee, look for interesting jobs with companies that have a pro-social mission. And if you’re a freelancer, once you’re financially secure, seek out gigs with similar.

Source: Fast Company


Image by WOCinTech Chat used under a CC BY license

Burnout-prevention rules

I’ve used quite a bit of Ben Werdmuller‘s software over the years. He co-founded Elgg, which I used for some of my postgraduate work, and Known, which a few of us experimented with for blogging a few years ago.

Ben’s always been an entrepreneur and is currently working on blockchain technologies after working for an early stage VC company. He’s a thoughtful human being and writes about technology and the humans who create it, and in this post bemoans the macho work culture endemic in tech:

It’s not normal. Eight years into working in America, I’m still getting used to the macho culture around vacations. I had previously lived in a country where 28 days per year is the minimum that employers can legally provide; taking time off is just considered a part of life. The US is one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t guarantee any vacation at all (the others are Tonga, Palau, Nauru, Micronesia, Kiribati, and the Marshall Islands). It’s telling that American workers often respond to this simple fact with disbelief. How does anything get done?! Well, it turns out that a lot gets done when people aren’t burned out or chained to their desks.

Ben comes up with some ‘rules’:

  1. Take a real lunch hour
  2. Take short breaks and get a change of scenery
  3. Go home
  4. Rotate being on call — and automate as much as possible
  5. Always know when your next vacation is
  6. Employers: provide Time Off In Lieu (or pay for overtime)
  7. Trust
  8. Track and impose norms with structure
  9. Take responsibility for each other’s well being

All solid ideas, but only nine rules? I feel like there’s a tenth one missing:

10. Connect with a wider purpose

After all, if you don’t know the point of what you’re working for, then you’ll be lacking motivation no matter how many (or few) hours you work.

Source: Ben Werdmuller