Define and execute - managing my energy like a resource

I’ve used the Getting Things Done method of organising my tasks and projects for years. While I admit that it has, more than once, become a distracting hobby of optimisation instead of helping, it has also freed up a lot of mental energy.

In my work I’m constantly switching between creative problem solving and mechanically grinding something out. Normally I just do a task from start to finish, but quite often it’s hard to start being creative when I’m already in a grinding out mindset.

The great people at Basecamp has an idea to solve this issue, they call it a Hill Chart, and it represents how well defined a task is and how far along execution it is. This could really help with picking the right thing to work on depending on mood and energy levels.

IMG_0320.GIF


To apply this strategy in my GTD setup I’ve created a new context I call Definition, which has two tags Define and Execute. I label all my tasks with one of these, and depending on which state I’m in I sort my tasks accordingly. I’ve only been doing this for a week so far, but I really enjoy the difference.

What do you think? Any better tips on how to manage your energy?


Etching patterns into your mind

Playboy: Why is the computer field dominated people so young? The average age of Apple employees is 29.

Jobs: It’s often the same with any new, revolutionary thing. People get stuck as they get older. Our minds are sort of electrochemical computers. Your thoughts construct patterns like scaffolding in your mind. You are really etching chemical patterns. In most cases, people get stuck in those patterns, just like grooves in a record, and they never get out of them. It’s a rare person who etches grooves that are other than a specific way of looking at things, a specific way of questioning things. It’s rare that you see an artist in his 30s or 40s able to really contribute something amazing. Of course, there are some people who are innately curious, forever little kids in their awe of life, but they’re rare.

We have to actively work on etching effective patterns. And we can never stop.

The real reason diversity makes better companies

Here in Sweden it's common, maybe even mandatory, to say that diverse companies are more innovative and even more profitable. But why are they?

Normally when something as good as this is being discussed, people are so afraid of looking like idiots they avoid discussing the reasons. Or better yet, just shout loudly about how good it is. I don't think this is good for society. Not only are we shaming smart people into silence, but we're also spreading ignorance by not discussing why good ideas are good.

Therefore here is the reason, as I've understood it, that diverse companies are better than no- diverse companies.

To make sure we're on the same page I need to explain how a company works: Companies are the sum of the people working at them. A company culture is just the accepted behaviour of individuals at the company. The profits of a company is the margin between the value the people at the company delivers, and the effort they have to put in.

This is why a company can do more than individuals. Cooperation leverages the employees efforts and smarts.

This is really - really - hard to do well, and the larger the group, the harder it is. The reason for that is that every individual has biases and points of ignorance, putting them all together you might start leveraging stupidity instead of smarts.

This is where diversity comes in

One really simple way to make sure you're not leveraging stupidity is to make sure you have a wide range of ideas floating around at the company. Having different points of view does not stop a company from having a culture. It does demand more communication between employees though.

The easiest way to make sure you have many points of view is to put people from many different backgrounds in the process.

Diversity limits the risk of taking stupid actions, and it can push people to communicate more instead of leaving things unsaid.

So the next time you hear diversity is great, now you at least know one concrete reason why.

A handfull of great ideas for a better life

Some time ago Tynan wrote a list of life rules for Zen Habits. Perfectly in line with my current project of trying to discover what strategies or principles I should live by. This is a great post in it's entirety, just see this excerpt: 

1. When you say you’re going to do something, do it. I believe that without his word, a man is nothing. This rule applies to things I tell others I will do as well as things I tell myself I’ll do.

[...]

5. Walk out of movies, stop reading books, leave parties. If I’m participating in some sort of entertainment and I realize that it’s not going to be worth the additional time spent, I leave. The fact that I paid $10 and watched half of the movie is irrelevant. The real decision at hand is: how do I want to spend the next hour of my life.
— Tynan

Optimisation your life away

I've thought a lot about optimisation of the last decade, always looking for better tools, productivity systems, and efficient ways of doing many, many, things. Until a few years ago when I started thinking about over-optimisation instead.

I now believe I've been using optimisation as a crutch, to procrastinate from doing the important, but scary, things in life. 

Optimising up front is usually a bad idea, it's a worse idea for every day life. Optimising should have a clear outcome of freeing up time.  If it doesn't, maybe you shouldn't be spending your time on that?
Maybe that time is better spent on the real work, or life?

Leo said it better.

(Update: This is a life strategy worthy idea.)

It's time for a radical rethink of web design paradigms

I love the current state of visual design online, don’t get me wrong. There’s so many beautiful apps and services that I’m constantly feeling the pressure to up my own game. Oddly though, in this sea of great design, there’s a strange aspect of conservative conformity. I’ve only started to wrestle with this myself, but this article will detail why I think web design needs a reboot.

There’s no reason for the web to look like the 90s

Most design today is based, at least in part, on context from the 90s. At that time design was constrained by bad browsers, small screens with poor contrast and bad system font typography. The results were frankly fantastic. Since then most of these constraints have changed radically, but design trends still closely resemble their forerunners.

Screen size and layout metaphor

Screen size should have little to no impact on design. In the early days of the internet, screens were terribly expensive and for the first couple of decades they were more or less standardised into a handful of sizes. TV and Cinema did the same thing, it was a great way to ensure affordable cost and mass market.

Today there are hundredsof screen sizes being used in large numbers. So many that simply testing a design on the most common screen sizes becomes an exercise in futility. Instead we tend to settle for flagship devices. An iMac Pro and Google Pixel Phone? Then we’re all set. Never mind the other 89 screen sizes that are used in more than a million visits per week...

Designers all over the world try to adapt to this by padding their layouts as if they were cinema screens. Just like Hollywood in the 60s we show the same things in almost the same size and then add white space fill the full width of the screen. Making sure the proper elements align above the "fold" (whatever that is on screens today).

This is nonsense. Screen size actually affects user behavior. The iPad technically isjust a large iPhone, but people sure don’t use it as such. Windows 10 does work on mobile devices, but no one would use software designed for a 4k monitor on their cellphone.

I believe that the only useful metaphor left over from the early days is scrolling. Scrolling is arguably more useful than ever because it is the main user inputon the most common type of device used online today — the touch screen phone.

Instead of seeing web pages as a full width scrolling sheets, there are two other metaphors in use that are more useful with todays technology:

Specifically sized cards.

Possibly made famous by the failed Palm OS. Look at any mobile app today and you will see cards everywhere. Usually they are made to be one size, and are then stacked horizontally or vertically depending on the available screen real-estate.

Infinite canvas

Facebooks infinite scroll is probably the most commonly used one. But infinite canvases are everywhere just like Cards. Presentations zoom and pan, web pages scroll, app windows show only part of the document. The use cases go on.

User Interface Inputs

The web is primarily used through graphical user interfaces, and mostly on mobile devices. Based on this premise isn’t it strange that so many designs still use the desktop hunt-and-peck-with-your-mouse style of elements?

Why do we right click links and chose to bookmark or open in a new tab? Why don't we drag the link to the side of the screen for a new tab, and to the bookmark icon to store it?

Despite huge success on mobile apps, the web still fails to recognise touch as a first class user input. Mouse clicks are already optional on many laptops. Ten years after the touch device started it's rise to power it is time for us to make the web reflect that.

Grid & Typography

In the last few years typography has turned the web from computer science book into a beautiful print poster. Finally we have access to technology like CSS grid that allows us to recreate any print layout. But why print?

Print design is all based on a set of constraints that have no value on the web. Most typography is created to fit fixed size sheets of paper. Worse still, fonts are set in rows with fixed heights. Do we really always need to scroll?

In stark contrast with layouts, why aren't we type setting based on screen size instead? Imagine if the font size was set to 80 characters across the screen. Or 200 characters vertically? What sort of grid could that produce?

So where do we go from here?

I don’t really know. The situation is extremely interesting. I’ll keep working on this, and post everything I think of right here. If you’d like to join in the fun, please contact me! Honestly, I'd love your help.

Your next steps

Reaching any goal

Have you reached every goal you have? No? Than something isn't working, and that something is you. To do something you've never done before, you have to do things differently than you have before.

Losing weight, starting a business, being creative, everything demands a change of routines and lifestyle. You have to change.

Don't be afraid to throw out who you are. When something doesn't get us what we want, change is the only way we can get it, so embrace it fearlessly. Here's how:

  1. Disregard how you usually do something (or how you are, that's nonsense).
  2. Read about or talk to people who have done something.
  3. Try it.
  4. Do it all over until you succeed, or want to do something else.

This post is a part of my 6 month experiment of discovering strategies for life.

How to plan well

Today there are so many things to do that most of us are running just to keep up. So many obligations and so many things we want to do. There's just never enough time.

Minimalism and Stoicism has the answers apparently. But it's hard to find the time to get around to them.

This way to live our lives isn't working. Not really. We're constantly breaking plans and coming up late on deadlines. The truth is that we can't do it all. We can do anything, but not everything.

It's time to apply that knowledge to planning:

Don’t plan more than you have the energy for on your worst day. Stop trying to make it your best day.

Is it that easy? I think it may be. I've added it to my set of life strategies, and will try it out for 6 months.

Strategies for a successful life

If you are anything like me, you've read a ton of great books and articles about how to live well. Learned tips and tricks from masters about how to achieve what you want in life. But honestly, I've probably forgotten more good ideas than I remember. Some idea I've had to relearn more than once. Some would've made my life much easier if I had just remembered them. Which is why I'm so inspired by Derek Sivers idea of Directives.

Derek takes notes while he reads, when he finishes something, he summaries it. Then he takes what he's learnt and adds it to a Do's and Dont's list. The list becomes an ever evolving set of strategies to live a better life. I think this is a great idea.

As one his directives is to shamelessly imitate, I'll take that advice and start doing the same thing. Starting today, I'll post everything I learn and keep a running list of Do's and Dont's. I'll tell you how it pans out in 6 months.

The Cult of Enthusiasm

We live in age of overwhelming optimism.  Everyone’s life is maical, and every experience awesome. You can’t buy cereal without being promised a soul uplifting and life affirming spiritual experience of purest joy. And yet, people are unhappy. Why is this?

Optimists are right in being wary of negativity. Most negativity simply hides fear, it creates barriers where there are none, making sure we don’t try something because it can’t be done or because what would people think? Negativity is a sneaky way for us to make ourselves victims. Pessimism is useless, we should never be victims.

But at the other end of the spectrum is the almost maniacal optimist. The person who’s so enthusiastic at all times it’s is simply beyond reason.  Well, what’s wrong with that?

Forcing enthusiasm has two major issues, as the journalist Oliver Burkeman outlines in his excellent best seller The Antidote.

Fail at Life

Firstly it sets you up to fail. How we talk to ourselves about things has a very real influence on how we feel. It sets expectations on the situations we find ourselves in, and life will simply never be a barrage of awesome and amazing experiences. It can not be, because the human mind isn’t made to handle that. It would simply stop registering the good things. How many times have you been reminded to count your blessings, only to realize life isn’t so bad? By expecting daily life to be amazing, we’ll constantly face being let down or surrounded by haters. Not because the world is actually like that, but because we‘ve created an impossible expectation. 

Use it or lose it

Secondly it seems we actually lose the ability to experience real joy and happiness when we’re constantly forcing the simulacrum of those emotions. According to burkeman “fake it til you make it” is not just incorrect, but is actually the opposite of how your mind is built to work.  Counter-intuitively looking at things from a negative point of view, a bit sceptically or even critically, you’ll set yourself up to be positively surprised often. And prepared for the situations when you’re not. 

We should never limit ourselves with artificial barriers of negativity and fear. But if we want to experience real happiness, we also shouldn’t buy into the cult of enthusiasm. Don’t force enthusiasm, look critically at the world and enjoy the ride. 

I wonder if engagement killed social media?

There’s no way to miss the frustration about social media all around us. Algorithmic feeds, allegations of Facebook manipulating the media. It never seems to end.

in the middle of this storm Andy Baio, the former CTO at Kickstarter, put up a link that shows you what your twitter feed was like ten years ago. It went viral.

Today were bombarded by snide comments and jokes at everyone’s expense, but ten years ago people mostly observed and shared things. 

I wonder why?

What happened that made the social landscape change this drastically? Was is the influx of new people that swamped the established culture? Possible, but I believe in humanity way more than that. was is the hardening social climate all around us? Doubtful, the only place it seems to get rougher is in the the media.

I think there’s a piece of evidence right there in what social posts look like today.

It’s a megaphone.

All these posts are broadcasts. They’re mostly snide, satirical or cynical posts at someone’s expense. 

There’s  another sort of content that’s experiencing the same development in parallel. News is growing worse and more snide by the minute in the race for faster and cheaper clickbait. 

Can it be that social media turned bad because we all strive for short term engagement? We know that measuring engagement shortsightedly has left Facebook with the massive undertaking to redesign their feed. So it’s not a big leap of the imagination to think that perhaps social media was killed by the like button. And twitter by the heart icon.

An entire form of media. Possibly killed because of a bad design choice. 

...or am I reading to much into this? 

A collection of buttons and dials on instagram

I've always loved buttons and dials. When I was a kid, the flashing consoles of Star Trek and Star Wars were the height of sci fi cool. Stereos and electrical panels were exciting, I kept wondering "what do these do?"