Kyle Maxwell

Just me.

Archive for the category “Productivity”

Memory apartment

'Memories Side Street' by shinyai

I’ve started trying to use the concept of memory palaces. However, I’ve never done anything like this before – bit of a newb, really. While I have a pretty good head for numbers and useless trivia, generally I resort to mnemonics of one sort or another the memorize lists and whatnot.

So I decided I wanted to remember things that I need to do first, as that tends to cause me problems. An apartment where we lived several years ago had an entry way where you immediately turned left, saw an open kitchen, then cut back to the right to see a den and a living room. I liked that apartment, so it made a perfect test “palace”.

To remember the tasks I needed to carry out, I visualized the entry way completely covered in flowers (send a sympathy bouquet). Turning left, President Bill Clinton greets me (payments due) and I see a cow in the kitchen (need milk for office). Turning back to the right, I see a large black monolith with a two-headed alien phase shifted in it (testing dual graphics cards in a new workstation). An old dot matrix printer sits in the living room (finish a report for the CSO) and He-Man stands nearby with a blue torso like a Pict (call Master Paint & Body).

You get the picture, literally.

Have any of my friends out there used this sort of technique before?


How Not to Hurry

Maybe we’re going at the wrong speed. Maybe if we are constantly rushing, we will miss out on life itself. Let’s let go of the obsession with speed, and instead slow down, stop rushing, and enjoy life.

via How Not to Hurry.

This reminds me of a story I heard on All Things Considered last night. It examined the well-known but poorly-understood phenomenon of time seeming to pass more quickly as we age. One of the theories had to do with every experience feeling ‘new’ when we’re young, but just getting ‘classified’ when we’re old. So a new meal or a new movie just gets filed away.

Maybe, if we take the time to enjoy every experience, we’ll feel like we live longer.

Walkabout score

Walk Score is a fascinating use of Google Maps to help you decide how walkable a given address or neighborhood is. There are ups and downs to living in a walkable area, so one shouldn’t interpret things as “positive” or “negative”. Just as one counter-example, a “green” rural home isn’t very walkable, but it’s certainly low-impact on the environment.

I live in Dallas, and got a walk score of 51. In reality, my neighborhood doesn’t lend itself very well to walking. We’re not too far from a large intersection with a grocery store and some restaurants, so that helps, but large blocks, dangerous walkways, and several mis-classified locations in Google Maps mean that the score has a bit of uncertainty in it. Still, the guide has some use and I think the score comes close to reality overall.


Employer loyalty

Brazen Careerist says:

True loyalty is sticking with a project even when things get bad. It’s going the extra mile to fix a mistake that could make the company look bad. It’s using so-called “personal time” to learn, create and promote — to better yourself in ways that better the organization.

Ultimately, it’s the small acts wherein you put your employer before yourself that make one loyal.

In context, this is discussing the difference between longevity and loyalty with reference to another article in IT World on making your company Gen Y-friendly. The pithy advice there includes such gems as “offer attractive benefits,” “promote work/life balance,” and such. Funny enough, this looks a lot like articles for many years. It’s not specific to a particular generation.

One thing I would point out, however, is mistaking loyalty to the organization with loyalty to the team. Executives use that word differently than the rank and file. When a CEO gets up and talks about the “company as a team,” he’s often missing the point, at least in larger organizations. The worker bees look at the people that work with them on a daily basis: their boss, their co-workers, other departments that interact frequently, etc. Loyalty — sticking together in difficult times, not just easy ones — often gets generated in that camaraderie.

And “rewarding” is great, too, but only if it’s accompanied by two-way loyalty. Sometimes loyalty isn’t in a set of rewards, it’s in standing by your employees in times of collective or individual difficulty. Managers should ask themselves whether they’re really putting the interests of their staff first, and whether their staff agrees.

It seems to me that that thought process makes the difference, and it’s not revolutionary. Take care of your people — whatever their generational identity — and they’ll take care of you.

Changing behavior through game design

I was going to blather on about how video gaming represents some fundamental shift in how we view our relationships to each other and the world around us – but I don’t think I really need to do that. We’re well into the 21st Century already.

Instead, let’s focus on what can we learn from game design to make us more productive?

What tasks can be turned into a game?

  • Parenting: Mary Poppins did this years ago, turning dreary tasks into something more enjoyable.
  • Breaking a habit (caffeine) or creating one (exercise) is largely about changing how we perceive the rewards for our behavior.
  • IT security, such as patch management, need not be some boring exercise in check lists and threatening emails about being out of compliance. Turn it into a properly-structured competition.

Relevant game design elements

Anyone who’s ever played Civilization (“one more turn then I’ll go to bed”) or done a grind in a MMORPG (one more level) knows how important constant, low-level feedback can be for a game. Small, frequent rewards do much more to motivate us and teach new behaviors than large, infrequent rewards. It’s easier to work through something knowing you’re only five minutes away from some small reward than it is knowing you’re six months away from a large one.

Competition is a key element as well This can be either players competing against themselves if it’s not appropriate or helpful to encourage it with others, in the sense of trying to beat their own personal bests or try to achieve some set goal. Of course competing against others — which department can achieve the highest compliance rates this month? — is also often a great motivator.

Successful games often encourage emergent play: can players find novel unintended new strategies? This isn’t to encourage cheating, but to find ways to be much more effective within the rules but not necessarily as originally envisioned. If you’ve ever seen a tank rush, this is exactly the sort of behavior that I mean.

Example: Child doing chores.

First, consider the goals and particular circumstances, both of the desired behavior and of the “players” involved. If you want your child learn to take care of herself and her belonging, a game might be appropriate. But simultaneously, how do you instill a sense of responsibility and not just turn everything into a bribe?

Assign daily and weekly chores appropriate to her age and ability. Set up a chart indicating her progress. (This is not new, obviously.) But here’s the trick:she must achieve a certain threshold to avoid negative consequences, and gets additional rewards for exceeding that threshold. Maybe she accumulates points above that threshold and can turn them in, either small amounts for small rewards or larger amounts for larger rewards. Think about arcades where players get tickets and can get anything from candy to soccer balls.

Games are so prevalent in our society that the basic ideas should almost be second nature to us now. Leveraging what we’ve already learned from them into modifying or creating positive new behaviors is a wonderful way to lead healthier, more fulfilling and productive lives.

No-snooze alarm clock

Snooze buttons are the enemy. In fact, they largely defeat the purpose of the alarm clock. This is particularly true for those of us that need help to actually get out of bed and stay there rather than just be alerted to the arrival of a certain hour.

This is a great example of customers getting what they think they want. Old-style alarms didn’t have it, though I’m not sure when it became common. But the feature they desire actually runs counter to the reasons for the alarm clock in the first place. Producers then do precisely what the market wants, which is one of the tenets of capitalism. But in this new economy of global markets and the ability to reach many more potential customers than before, catering to specific desires — like wanting an alarm clock without a snooze button — should be far more viable.

Then again, searching for a product without a common feature is still a bit of a pain. Future blog post material, even.

Cheating and sick days

The fact that there are so many sites to get cheating doctor notes makes me a little ill. Not ill enough to miss work, though, heh.

The whole way our society manages worker illness is dysfunctional and doesn’t take into account all that we’ve learned about productivity, physical and mental health, and human behavior. This is an unethical response to bad management practice, and that’s just going to feed the problem.

I used to work for an employer that had what I thought was an enlightened policy: if you’re sick, don’t work. If you have a major problem, talk to your boss about managing it. Otherwise, you should be productive enough to deal with it.

And as an employee: if you hate your job so much you make up lies to not have to work, you need a new one.

New Morning Routine

For years, my morning routine was one I’d more or less inherited. Get up, shower / shave / etc., have a bowl of cereal and cup of coffee while reading the news, then head to work. As broadband Internet access became available, I started to spend that time online, but it was mostly a question of the medium.

Over time, this became slightly problematic. I’d do the shower after breakfast and sort of extend the reading / surfing period. This was combined with going to sleep later and generally caused my mornings to be a lot more rushed and stressful than was really healthy and productive.

My new, preferred method is to eat breakfast after the commute but before I actually reach the office. I’ll pop into a nearby Starbucks for coffee and some sort of baked good with my copy of The Economist and my smartphone to hang out for a bit before rolling into the office. This has the advantage of acting as a natural brake on the amount of time I spend on that period, but it also gets me across town before traffic gets really bad (7am is my intended departure time). Less time in traffic means less stress and less wasted gasoline.

After a couple of weeks — I started this routine while the family was on vacation — this is accomplishing my goals and I’m feeling a lot better about my day as it gets started.


I spent years fiddling with my personal toolbox, trying to optimize my work flow and make endless changes to become more productive. Then it sort of dawned on me a few years ago that I was obsessing more about the cup than the coffee I put in it, and I learned to deal with the tools I had available and was using.

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