Quitting your pocket slot machine

Political misinformation, privacy screw-ups , harmful and manipulative content — let’s just switch it off.

The case for deleting your social media accounts & doing valuable “deep work” instead, according to Prof. Cal Newport – Open Culture
As for the claim that we should join him in the wilderness of the real—his argument is persuasive. Social media, says Newport, is not a “fundamental technology.” It is akin to the slot machine, an “entertainment machine,” with an insidious added dimension—the soul stealing. Paraphrasing tech guru and iconoclast Jaron Lanier, Newport says, “these companies offer you shiny treats in exchange for minutes of your attention and bytes of your personal data, which can then be packaged up and sold.” But like the slot machine, the social media network is a “somewhat unsavory source of entertainment” given the express intent of its engineers to make their product “as addictive as possible,” comparable to what dietitians now call “ultra-processed foods”—all sugar and fat, no nutrients.

It’s from three years ago now, but doesn’t get any less relevant.

Quit social media | Dr. Cal Newport – YouTube
‘Deep work’ will make you better at what you do. You will achieve more in less time. And feel the sense of true fulfillment that comes from the mastery of a skill.

Say ‘I do’ with a spreadsheet? I’m glad I didn’t

I happily sit and play work with spreadsheets all day, but some people can take things too far.

Inside the hyper-organised world of wedding planning spreadsheets
I, too, initially scoffed at the wedding spreadsheets. It’s just a party! Why do people get so crazy about weddings?! I’m going to be a chill bride! But then I started to think about the venue. And the guest list. And the food. And the drink. And the music. And the transport. And the photographer… Of course, you can do away with as many of the details as you want (one spreadsheet I came across included tips on matching your tiara to your skin tone), but as much as you may wish to rail against the wedding-industrial complex, if you are getting married and want to do anything other than elope in secret, then mark my words, you will end up using a spreadsheet. …

As a result, while the spreadsheets can be generally helpful, they can also quickly spiral out of control, becoming a bullet-pointed reminder of all the social expectations heaped on people (and especially women) preparing for what they’re conditioned to believe must be a perfect event. Got a misalignment between guest numbers and venue capacity? You fail, back to square one! Didn’t factor in a hair and make-up practice session? What sort of bride are you? Forgot a flower buttonhole for the groomsmen? Game over, perfection not achieved! In one spreadsheet shared with me, you can almost hear the pleading of an embattled bride trying to keep a grip as she adds yet another entry: “Who will move presents and cards during cocktail hour, and to where?” Who will move the presents during cocktail hour? To where? Hang on a minute, I’m supposed to have a cocktail hour?

It was a while ago now, but in my case we didn’t so much want to get married, as be married — makes for a much simpler and calmer approach.

Productivity advice from US spies

I have to admit to a certain level of smugness when a popular website publishes something that I’ve already highlighted here years ago. Like this top-secret US sabotage manual from 1944, for example, that I first mentioned in 2015.

This new Quartz article does take a different approach to it, however, by looking at what it can teach us about today’s bureaucratic management styles.

How to cope with a toxic boss, according to a US spy manual from WWII

“Insist on doing everything through channels. Never permit shortcuts to be taken. Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions. Insist on perfect work in relatively unimportant projects.” …

“When training new workers, give incomplete or misleading instructions. To lower morale, and with it, production, be pleasant to inefficient works; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers. Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.” …

If you feel like your boss is following these directions, the only option is to insert yourself as a counter-saboteur, and to get ahead of their actions. This World War II manual has actually proven helpful in my own corporate work experience. If nothing else, it has prompted me at times to think about how to turn an overly bureaucratic situation into a productive and expedient one.

Every day is another chance

A nice write-up in the New Yorker about Bullet Journalling, with an interview with its creator, Ryder Carroll.

Can Bullet Journaling save you?
In the next hour, he helped me set it up. “The Bullet Journal is designed to embrace the chaos that is life,” he said. We made a meta page with my intentions for the journal and a “brain dump” for anything on my mind. He had me draw bullet points instead of a checkboxes for tasks, because, he said, “Things aren’t binary; things begin, they pause, they resume, they get moved.” We talked about the BuJo practice of “a.m. and p.m. reflection,” when you look over the day’s notes. “For us, lists aren’t just stuff we have to do,” he said. “Each task is an experience waiting to be born.” …

“Only add what serves you, and be patient with yourself, because it’s a new thing. You’re not doing it right, you’re not doing it wrong, you’re just figuring it out as you go along.” He paused. “It’s another reason why I love the notebook,” he said. “It’s like every day is another chance.”

The notebooks I use for work are based on this, a little. For all the bells and whistles that the million apps and online systems have, there’s something immediate and concrete about pen and paper that I prefer. As he says, things aren’t binary.

As with anything, some people can get carried away with it all, and spend hours creating wonderfully polished, Instagram-friendly pages that would take more time to produce than the actual tasks being listed. But that’s up to them, it’s not a requirement of the system. Thankfully, as my handwriting’s appalling.

Has e-mail had its day?

However much we might loathe it, I used to think that e-mail was here to stay. But now I’m not too sure. How many people do you know who enjoy using it? How many young people do you know who use it at all?

Perhaps it will go the same way as CDs or VHS tapes — technological marvels that revolutionised everything, only to become old-fashioned and disappear shortly afterwards. Let’s hope.

Was e-mail a mistake?
Digital messaging was supposed to make our work lives easier and more efficient, but the mathematics of distributed systems suggests that meetings might be better.

Email hackers are winning
The lesson of Efail is that you can build everything well, but if you’ve built on a bad foundation, there’s no structure strong enough to stand. No one is responsible for email itself, and in the days since the Efail disclosure people have been pointing fingers at each other—email clients, vendors, OpenPGP standards, and S/mime software vendors. It’s no one’s fault and it’s everyone’s fault. These kinds of disclosures, and the hacks built on the flaws of email, will keep coming for the foreseeable future.

Managing a productive and efficient … family?

We’re all busy at work, with tasks to complete, reports to write, deadlines to meet and so on. And busy in a different way at home with the family; juggling various commitments and schedules, managing budgets and dealing with feisty adolescents.

Here’s an article on how some people are trying to manage the latter using the tools of the former. (I can just see James Bridle shaking his head at this latest example of, ‘Technology and software to the rescue!’)

The Slackification of the American home
Children’s free-play time has been on the decline for more than 50 years, and their participation in extracurricular activities has led to more schedule-juggling for parents. Parents are busier too, especially those whose jobs demand ever more attention after hours: 65 percent of parents with a college degree have trouble balancing work and family, a 2015 Pew Research Center report found, compared with about half of those without a college degree. In an effort to cope, some families are turning to software designed for offices. Parents are finding project-management platforms such as Trello, Asana, and Jira, in addition to Slack, a workplace communication tool (its slogan is “Where work happens”), particularly useful in their personal lives. In other words, confronted with relentless busyness, some modern households are starting to run more like offices.

Julie Berkun Fajgenbaum, a mom of three children ages 8 to 12, uses Google Calendar to manage her children’s time and Jira to keep track of home projects. Ryan Florence, a dad in Seattle, set up a family Slack account for his immediate and extended family to communicate more easily. And Melanie Platte, a mom in Utah, says Trello has transformed her family life. After using it at work, she implemented it at home in 2016. “We do family meetings every Sunday where we review goals for the week, our to-do list, and activities coming up,” she says. “I track notes for the meeting [in Trello]. I have different sections, goals for the week, a to-do list.” Her oldest son started high school last year, and Platte says that without productivity and task-management software, she doesn’t know how he could manage it all. Trello allows her son to track responsibilities and deadlines, and set incremental goals.

I would prefer not to.

Endless and insurmountable to-do lists

A welcome corrective from Quartz to all those productivity articles I used to enjoy reading, always in search of the perfect to-do app or system, distracting myself with the business-of-work rather than getting on with the actual work itself.

The life-draining tedium of errands is even worse in this age of digital convenience
Technology promised to simplify our lives—but errands seem to overwhelm us now. Automation, “smart technologies,” and “virtual assistants” haven’t magically made tedious tasks easier, but rather replaced old steps with new ones. You don’t necessarily have to go places to get things done, but you do have to recall old passwords or reset new ones, deal with infuriating bots that take your calls but can’t answer questions, and manage a slew of accounts. And because we change jobs more often and lead increasingly hectic lives, we experience a kind of “errand paralysis”.

Office moves?

How many of us spend all our working days with Microsoft Office products? It’s sobering to think that I’ve been staring at monitors full of Outlook e-mails, Word documents and Excel spreadsheets for more than 20 years now. Might that all be changing soon? We’ll see.

The new word processor wars: A fresh crop of productivity apps are trying to reinvent our workday
Nearly 30 years after Microsoft Office came on the scene, it’s in the DNA of just about every productivity app. Even if you use Google’s G Suite or Apple’s iWork, you’re still following the Microsoft model.

But that way of thinking about work has gotten a little dusty, and new apps offering a different approach to getting things done are popping up by the day. There’s a new war on over the way we work, and the old “office suite” is being reinvented around rapid-fire discussion threads, quick sharing and light, simple interfaces where all the work happens inside a single window.

The article lists the alternatives as Quip, Notejoy, Slite, Zenkit, Notion and Agenda for documents and Smartsheet, Airtable, Coda and Trello for spreadsheets.

Their informal, cartoony visuals and emphasis on chatty messaging collaboration makes everything feel a little juvenile and jokey.

office-moves-4

I wonder if my demographic is supposed to be represented on that Coda homepage by the grey-haired, casual-suit-no-tie coffee-drinker in the bottom right-hand corner. I’ve certainly never taken an ice-cream, a skateboard or a basketball to work, so I guess it must be, fist-bump-at-the-stacked-area-chart notwithstanding.

office-moves-2

Cutting out distractions

Do you get easily distracted?

Screen blocking glasses
IRL Glasses are the answer to screen overload and digital fatigue, putting people back in the driver’s seat to control when and how they interact with screens. Wearing IRL Glasses makes screens that are “on” look like they are “off.”

cutting-out-distractions-1

Or perhaps you’re looking for something for the office?

Open offices have driven Panasonic to make horse blinders for humans
At what point do we just give up and admit we’re living in exactly the dystopian nightmare speculative fiction warned us about? It probably ought to be these horse blinders for people, which look like something straight out of a Terry Gilliam movie.

cutting-out-distractions-3

Or how about something more … Halloweeny?

This vintage anti-distraction helmet looks like a creepy horror show prop
Distractions are all around us, whether it’s ambient noise or the colorful items around you, and it’s sometimes extremely difficult to concentrate on the task you need to finish. A 1920’s anti-distraction helmet, known as the Isolator, was invented to address this issue.

cutting-out-distractions-2

Sometimes simple ≠ efficient

Here’s an interesting take on productivity and efficiency from Nikhil Sonnad at Quartz.

Forget easy-to-use design. Choose something hard instead
The new cult of simple software is making us less productive. Simple tools get in the way of our thinking by making assumptions about what we want to do, and by putting the ease of getting going ahead of optimizing productivity. By contrast, using a tool like Vim makes me more expressive. It reduces the friction between what’s in my head and what I can make happen on the computer. […]

It is time to embrace the difficult tool. No more accepting Excel when learning R or Python would let us do better work; no more out-of-the-box flashcards instead of customized software like Anki. Let’s stop expecting software to do everything for us, and put our minds to work.

Yes, sometimes less is more. But sometimes more is more, too. I’ll pass over Vim, I think, but I’m very tempted to head back over to Udemy and give those Python courses another go.

It’s Monday! Let’s get to work! Maybe.

We all work very hard in our jobs, right? Looking for ways to be more efficient and productive. Well, perhaps not all of us. Or perhaps not all the time.

The art of not working at work
Most work sociologists tend toward the view that non-work at work is a marginal, if not negligible, phenomenon. What all statistics point towards is a general intensification of work with more and more burnouts and other stress syndromes troubling us. Yet there are more-detailed surveys reporting that the average time spent on private activities at work is between 1.5 and three hours a day. …

Even if the percentage of workers who claim they are working at the pinnacle of their capacity all the time is slowly increasing, the majority still remains unaffected. In fact, the proportion of people who say they never work hard has long been far greater than those who say they always do. The articles and books about the stressed-out fraction of humanity can be counted in the thousands, but why has so little been written about this opposite extreme?

It’s an interesting article, but I wonder if it really applies here in the UK. Take this paragraph, for example.

Many would say that the underworked should talk to their bosses, but that doesn’t always help. I spoke with a Swedish bank clerk who said he was only doing 15 minutes’ worth of work a day. He asked his manager for more responsibilities, to no avail, then told his boss of his idleness. Did he get more to do? Barely. When I spoke with him, he was working three-hour days—there were laws that barred any workday shorter than that—and his intervention only added another 15 minutes to his workload.

In this austerity-stricken land would the equivalent worker, who admits to only doing 15 minutes’ work a day, still have a job after admitting that? They’re admitting their post is superfluous and are asking to be dismissed, surely.

Just deal with it, not bothered how

I’m finding these kinds of articles about people moaning about their e-mail more and more annoying.

Unanswered emails were the bane of my life – until I spent a month in search of inbox nirvana
I renegotiate the terms of this week (with myself) and instead resolve never to check emails on my phone. This is because, as Gomes tells me, it is a “really, really stupid” thing to do. He describes a crushingly familiar scenario: you skim through emails on your phone, and half-read one that stresses you out. You can’t read it properly because it’s on a small screen which is “psychologically frustrating”, and you can’t reply because you get distracted – you so half-read it three times, growing more and more anxious, before you finally sit down at your computer, and realise it wasn’t as bad as you thought.

To prevent myself from checking my email on my iPhone’s browser, I move the Safari icon so that it is nine swipes away. It works. I feel simultaneously triumphant and riddled with self-loathing.

Yes, some people get more e-mail than others. And yes, it’s taking up more of our time than it used to. But no, it’s not an interruption from your work, dealing with e-mail is a part of your work now. And has been for, what, 20 years? There’s so much advice out there on how to work smarter with e-mail – filters and rules, labels and folders, even declaring e-mail bankruptcy now and then. Whatever works for you. Just get on with it.

The hurrier I go, the behinder I get

I think it’s time for a backlash against inane, obvious productivity advice, and this article from the Guardian feels like a good start.

Overwhelmed? 10 ways to feel less busy​
#8 ​​​Slow down, however wrong that feels​. The last thing you want to hear, when you’re drowning in to-dos, is that cultivating patience might be part of the solution. But our urgency-addicted culture is at the core of the busyness problem, according to the addiction researcher Stephanie Brown. We’re convinced that with just a bit more speed we could stay in control – and so we grow unwilling to tolerate the discomfort of slowing down. When you’re already on this urgency treadmill, it can feel excruciating to attempt to slow down – but you may end up getting more done if you try. Experiment with doing nothing at all for 10 minutes between tasks: the harder that feels, the more you may need it.

Emma Mulqueeny's time limited solution to e-mail horribleness

If Google and MS Exchange were to implement this, it really would shift our relationship with e-mail into a much more mature and intelligent place. We’ve had e-mail for ages now, we really should have moved on more than we have.

Seven email problems – one solution, I think
You can have your inbox set to destroy email after a certain time period. The sender is alerted to the fact that their email will be destroyed after xxx number of days, so if no response has been received in that time, assume email bankruptcy on behalf of the receiver, and use a different method to communicate your demands/thanks/wishes/offers.

You can also send time limited email – if the receiver has not read the email by a certain date, it becomes irrelevant or too late, and so the email is deleted, so that saves the issue of protracted apologetic comms that are dull for everyone involved. You could set this email to alert you when it is deleted unread, just so you know, in case you want to pursue the issue on a different medium.

 

Whether we like e-mail or not

E-mail, the Godzilla of the enterprise
Email crosses all lines and boundaries. Until we can find a better, and easier, way to work everywhere with everyone, email is not going anywhere. We can only hope that email can be a productive tool and not a burden in the next several years because like Godzilla, email is here to stay.

Kanban’s can-do attitude?

kanban board

How to apply Kanban thinking at work
At day’s end, review which tasks are in the “Done” column. “If you’ve only finished green tasks, ask yourself: ‘Are those my highest-value tasks? Why am I completing some and not others?’,” says Benson. “Try to identify patterns. That way you can hypothesise solutions, enact them, and test them against the board. The kanban should always be helping you improve.”

Might give this a go. I’ve got lists coming out of my ears, but I’ve been struggling with visualising my overall position on all these projects I’m responsible for.

The next lego productivity thing?

Bit Planner
The Lego calendar is a wall mounted time planner that we invented for our studio. It’s made entirely of Lego, but if you take a photo of it with a smartphone all of the events and timings will be magically synchronised to an online, digital calendar. It makes the most of the tangibility of physical objects, and the ubiquity of digital platforms.

Kaizen, change on the cheap?

Key features of Kaizen include:

  • Improvements are based on many small changes rather than the radical changes that might arise from Research and Development
  • As the ideas come from the workers themselves, they are less likely to be radically different, and therefore easier to implement
  • Small improvements are less likely to require major capital investment than major process changes
  • The ideas come from the talents of the existing workforce, as opposed to using research, consultants or equipment – any of which could be very expensive
  • All employees should continually be seeking ways to improve their own performance
  • It helps encourage workers to take ownership for their work, and can help reinforce team working, thereby improving worker motivation.
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continual_improvement_process

I was trying to remember the name of this technique when talking about change management with a colleague earlier. I like the idea of everyone being on the look-out, in an energetic, proactive way, for ways of improving how they do things — and I guess the first step in that might be to encourage people to moan about their jobs, to identify the parts of the process that feel unwieldy, unnecessary, over-complex — but I’m wondering if it’s not just change on the cheap, as those bulletpoints above from Wikipedia might imply.

A new personal productivity blog that might actually be useful

I’m always wary of personal productivity blogs. I love the topic but they become just another thing to read when I should be working. But WorkSmart seems different, like it might actually be useful.

"But what about the people working behind those services, who are having to use systems which aren’t quite so delightfully designed with the user in mind? The systems and processes we are all engaged with on a daily basis when we are at work often suck, and make our jobs a lot harder than they need to be."

http://worksmarthq.com/welcome-to-worksmart/