Drunk on Conversation
I’m a self identified introvert and I really love time alone to sit and think (or run and think). As a husband, father of three and manager of designers, I don’t get nearly as much alone time as I once did. Don’t get me wrong, I love having in-depth conversation with the people that I’ve surrounded myself with. Hearing about my daughter’s day at school, going on walks with my wife and having one on ones with the Design Directors at thoughtbot are all incredibly fulfilling conversations and I don’t want them to change.
The issue that I keep running into is that I feel exhausted mentally after a few of these. This feeling is especially relevant after I’ve led a design sprint, which almost feels like waking up the morning after binge drinking. I head home after every day of the sprint feeling exhausted and delirious. This feeling, typical for many introverts, is called an introvert hangover because the symptoms are sometimes so similar.
Last Friday was especially bad for me because I had been in a sprint all week and then pushed my normal one on ones and meetings to the end of the week. This culminated in seven meetings on Friday lined up one after right after another. By the end of the day my brain felt like it had been used as a punching bag. Towards the end of days like these I end up saying stupid shit at best and at worst I say things I regret. Not so different to being drunk.
On my drive home I realized that I need to treat meetings like I would drinking. I need to space them out and make sure that I have down time alone for focused work. I need to make sure that if I’ve had back to back meetings all afternoon that my wife knows that I’m going to be a bit of a mess and that once the kids are in bed that I’ll need some time alone to recollect myself.
Space to think
Over the last few months, I’ve been trying hard to give myself moments to stop and think. This means quiet time where I’m not using my phone where I can leave my mind to wander.
The advent of the smartphone and my increasingly prolific use of it has helped me lose any time where I might stop and think. My excuse has been productivity but of course a lot of that productivity is playing games or reading news. I’d write in my journal and believe that this reflection was giving me the correct time to think. The times away from my phone, I force myself to be bored, allow me to better reflect back on the day. It gives me open time to let my mind wander to the topics that are most important to me at that time. These aren’t recorded like my journal entries and I appreciate that time more because I have no way to bring up my thoughts.
The best example of this change is when I go for a run. In the past I’ve typically brought my phone or iPod along with me and listened to music or podcasts as I ran. I used the excuse that the music pushed me to run harder and the podcasts entertained me during the long runs. Now I leave my phone at home and track my run on my watch. Having nothing but the monotonous task of running sets the perfect background for me to do nothing but be bored and think. To spend the 30 minutes running with myself.
The 80/20 rule of my tools
I’ve been a heavy user of both Vim and OmniFocus for a while. Both are expert tools that need constant sharpening and maintenance but that’s why I started using them in the first place. I’d spend a lot of time with both so it made sense to have the most tailored setup I could possibly have.
For vim, I’d keep my dot files up to date. I’d watch other designers dot files so that I could see how they were working with code. I spent time learning the plugin environment and theme environment to get the very best look. Even then there were still small things that I didn’t understand or couldn’t get quite right. Everytime something update I would have to spend a bunch of time learning and updating.
Over the last couple years my responsibilities have changed and the projects I had at work started to change as well. I didn’t write HTML & Scss nearly as much as I have in the past and my tool for that slowly began to slip. Instead I’m spent an increasing amount of time supporting designers, doing sales, conducting interviews. Google Hangouts have been used just as much as my code editor.
Also, by chance, many of the projects I’ve had over the last year have been more focused on user experience and visual design. I’ve spent just as much time sketching, in Sketch and Invision than I have in the browser and editor.
After trying a couple alternatives, I’ve been sticking with Atom.I got to 80% of what I use with Vim with 20% of the effort. The best part for me is that it doesn’t involve the same maintenance either. I don’t need to spend the same amount of time sharpening and leaning about dot files and which combination of plugins will make me really quick.
Similar thing happened with OmniFocus. I noticed that I was forcing a lot with an unnecessarily complex system. That system was complex because the software allowed me to endlessly change and iterate how it worked for me. I love iteration but I’d spend more time iterating on how I used Omnifocus than actually doing things.
I’ve switched back to Things to keep lists because it has a more structured system that I fit into. I’m ok with the missing features that I loved in Omnifocus because I don’t need my list app to be perfect. The 20% effort that it took to get going and maintenance with Things is more worth it than the 80% effort I was giving Omnifocus to keep things perfect.
Both of these make me believe that having a tool that gets a majority of the job done with minimal effort is more important than having a tool that fits my needs perfectly but takes a lot of time to maintain. I’m also wondering what other tools are out there that are ting more time and attention that I really need them too.
News, keeping up to date and heading back to RSS
When I was a young designer, back when Twitter was still just starting to gain popularity in the tech community, I was subscribed to a ton of blogs and publications through RSS, specifically Google Reader. Reader was my jam. These all kept me up to date on latest trends and practices, kept me inspired and gave me access to the brains of some of the best designers and web people of the time. Through learning CSS and showing me how to design for the web, it was invaluable for growing as a designer.
After Google shut down Reader, I tried other services but none quite felt right. Around the same time, I felt like I had outgrown some of the feeds that had subscribed to and I started seeing an increase of value in Twitter. I more and more found myself going to Twitter to keep informed about what was sign on around the design and product world. This all came to a culmination and I decided to abandon RSS in favor of 140 character snippets to get my news, education and inspiration.
Over time Twitter has done a good job keeping me informed and inspired. Over the last few months though I’ve seen the amount of noise in my Twitter feed pick up. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with the election and even more has to do with the result. I saw myself feeling shitty after looking at Twitter. All of the people I followed started using it to complain and name call. I started to not believe a lot of the news that I was finding on Twitter. It’s lost it’s value as something that I turn to for education and inspiration. For now I need to rethink what Twitter means to me but it’s not serving the job I had used it for.
I’ve tried subscribing to newsletters but they end up cluttering up my inbox. I’m not in the mindset of looking at links when combing through email. I’m headed back to RSS, specifically Reeder on my computer and phone syncing through Feedly. The app is beautifully designed and fits the way that I want to comb through news. I’ve started to weed out the publications that I find useful and important to the design world and beyond. It allows me to be more intentional about what I’m subscribed to.
What I’ve learned through all of this is that over time I just need to start these services from scratch to clear out the codebase. To unfollow and unsubscribe from everything and rethink how and why I used these services. That’s what I’ll be doing with Twitter moving forward.
I’d love to hear any suggestions on blogs or sites that you think I should be paying attention to. Shoot me an email or a tweet.
Getting things done
Only a few months ago I recorded an episode of Tentative where Reda and I talked about the tools we use. During it I unabashedly said that I use email for my task list and that I find comfort in it’s simplicity. It’s turned into a lie.
I manage to have ADD when it comes to list/todo programs. I feel like I’ve downloaded and bought all of the productivity applications. Every few months I decide the one I’m using isn’t working for me and I try a new one or fall back to an older system.
A majority of task software isn’t thinking about the collection process and instead focuses on the processing and organization of tasks. This was my initial draw to using Inbox. With it I didn’t have many folders of projects, I didn’t have duration, or tags or the whole slew of other tools for organizing. I had two lists, work email and personal email and that was it. I really liked that simplicity. Many of the things I need to do come in through email so using email as a list seemed sensible.
Where most of them fall apart for me, including my email/Google Inbox set up, was remembering to write down the things that I needed to do. If you don’t get your tasks into your system you’re not going to remember to do them so your system falls apart. And that is precisely what happens. I forget to do things that I should or need to be doing because I don’t add them to my task manager. There was a big barrier to collecting new tasks into Inbox that weren’t email. I’d have to do many steps just to add a task on both my desktop and phone. The work involved was high so I tended to not record them and subsequently forgot about them.
Back to Omnifocus
Omnifocus is great if you have a process for keeping track of your tasks because it can be customized to your hearts delight. But that’s the problem, unless you know how you are going to tackle your productivity you find yourself fiddling with the application more than actually doing things. This was my problem the first time that I used Omnifocus, I fiddled with the organization and never got into a groove collecting and completing tasks. My process for reviewing and using the app fell apart because a lacked a concrete process for doing both.
This time around I tried to take the things I learned from my email lists. I keep only one major list that houses a majority of my tasks this way I can ignore the complexity that can develop from maintaining too many open projects. I do have some individual projects that. I use contexts for work, home, computer, phone, email and errand. These sum up a majority of contexts that I’m in.
Collection with Omnifocus
One of the biggest reasons I choose to come back to Omnifocus was for the many ways I could record tasks. My favorite has quickly become Siri and the auto import from Reminders app. I’ll ask Siri on my phone or watch to set an iOS reminder and Omnifocus will suck that reminder up into my inbox. Makes recording super simple and can be done almost anywhere. I’ll also use the force tap on the Omnifocus icon to create a new todo in my inbox. I’ll use the Save + to add in multiples at at time. It’s one thing that seems so simple that so many applications get wrong.
On the desktop I have an Alfred workflow that I had previously. Many apps have this but coming from using Inbox, it felt wonderful to be able to do again. I also can still forward email to Omnifocus and it will create a todo for me. So my inbox isn’t ever littered with things that I need to do.
The rest of the setup
My biggest love of Inbox was it’s snooze and being able to see tasks when I could focus on them. I get overwhelmed by long lists and tend to shut off and not use that system that won’t let me hide all of the things that I need to do but don’t need to do right now. With Omnifocus, I use a combination of start date and flags to show me the tasks that I should be working on. If I don’t think I can get to the task I’ll push the start time out to a day when I think I will be able to focus on it. All my other tasks are hidden from view.
For me the best part of this is setting these to a specific time of the day. For work things I can set them to 8am when I walk in the door. For tasks at home, I set them to 8pm when I think my son will be in bed and I’ll have a few minutes to accomplish some things before I render useless for the night.
I’ve customized my forecast view in Omnifocus to show me all of the current items that are available and flagged or due. The tasks combined with my calendar gives me a good overview of what I’m going to do in the day. On my watch I have a count of the tasks that are ready to do or tasks in my inbox that need to be sorted. This keeps me on top of my lists and keeps me organized.
This set up has been working for me for a few months now and I’m hopeful that I’ve finally gotten to a groove with it.