Kyle Maxwell

Just me.

Archive for the tag “Productivity”

Staying mobile

Lifehack says:

[W]eb apps can make you truly mobile. It will no longer matter if you forget to bring your flash drive with you.

Understanding this is key to understanding cloud computing and where the mobile web is taking us now. That is to say that with the continued expansion of wireless networking (both 3G cellular networks and wifi everywhere), you really don’t need too much in the way of portable storage. Sure, you might want to carry around some larger files with you on a flash drive or iPod, but storage out on the web is so cheap that there’s no need to carry much around with you. Dreamhost, my web host, offers half a terabyte of online storage to new users. That’s not even counting Files Forever. In fact, I’d say a useful hosting service is just as key as many of the other (highly useful) apps they list, particularly if you are a UNIX head. It’s almost as important as a good wireless phone and unlimited data plan.

Of course, Lifehack misses the biggest of them all: Google. Yes, they list Google Documents (and Google Talk in a very quick and passing mention), but what about Notebook? Also, Checkout looks like it could be useful in some circumstances, though maybe not for web freelancers. The list of Google services I use grows weekly, and the novel uses people find for their services grows far more quickly.


Note taking in the cloud or on the desktop

Why would I use a local note taking app over one on the Web? A recent Linux Format article covered a number of such apps on Linux, but I really can’t see why I’d use one over Google Notebook or Backpack. Availability with these two has never been an issue for me and I don’t have to synchronize any devices. This includes my mobile, which has great access to both. They could stand some improvement, like editing existing notes from my mobile, but overall this weakness is overcome by the ability to easily access them from anywhere.

I might give one or two of the desktop apps a spin to see what’s missing, I suppose.

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.

Mobile Google

Google totally gets the Mobile Web.

After my recent Toolbox post, I was looking into freshening things up a little bit. I started digging around a bit with Google Documents and email uploading. It wasn’t entirely reliable, but since I use Gmail anyway, I can always open any attachments I tried to send directly into Google Docs.

That led to me discovering Google Docs Mobile, which was really welcome. But they didn’t stop there, no. Google Notebook also has a mobile version where users can post notes and review existing notebooks. Between those two, almost all of Backpack is easily replaced for me, so I downgraded that last night. The home page (for tracking next actions) and reminders are still handy; Google Calendar isn’t really a reminder service.

So let’s review what they’ve got so far:

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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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