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.
“If you start with an in-house position, it will be almost impossible to later obtain an agency position.” After finding out that I was applying to both in-house and agency jobs, the agency owner I was interviewing with lectured me on being careful about which I chose. I was fresh out of college, becoming a little desperate for a job and interviewing at both types of positions. I desperately wanted to be an agency designer and his place was epically cool. They created advertising for well-known brands, won numerous awards, and were recognized in the area for their design.
I ended up taking an in-house position - not because I thought it was more glamorous or because I thought it was a great job, but because I needed rent money and it was my only real offer at the time.
I’ll give him credit, because he was partially right. After some time, I was ready to move on from that in-house job. Things began to get stale for me - I stopped learning and being challenged at my job and as much as I pushed for change, the company was never receptive. The only part of my day that kept me sane were the side projects I worked on at night or over weekends. They kept me energized about design and continued to fuel my learning and passion for building.
I knew at the time that I had a steady pay check and while not being challenged was a terrible feeling, I wanted to wait until I found a job I really loved before I made the decision to leave my current one. I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice by jumping at the first offer I had. After redesigning my portfolio, I applied to a small product consultancy, and I was pretty sure it was exactly what I wanted. Designers using HTML & CSS, communicating their design decisions directly to the client - they even had Friday lunches.
I was hopeful. I was excited. And I never heard back.
Time passed and I applied to other companies, completed some interviews, and even had an offer, but nothing ever felt right. In that time, that consultancy opened up another designer position. I sent in my portfolio again, less hopeful than the first time, but this time they got back with me. I began that job six years ago, and I’ve been challenged every day since.
I’ve seen that consultancy go from 13 people in a small office in Boston to over 100 people in 10 offices around the world. Mind blown. I’ve had the opportunity to grow with the company as well, being challenged throughout my entire journey. I’ve gone from never having used git or designing in a Rails app to working in Vim and Terminal, all the while figuring out how to build an app that solves a problem for people. I’ve seen my industry go from static mockups to responsive design, as the very first iPad was released a month after I started. I’ve seen and been a part of an open source community that has rapidly changed how we think about CSS. I’ve gone from a Designer to a Managing Director, opening an office in a new city, to Chief Design Officer, supporting and leading a stellar design team. It’s been a constant challenge and privilege to be part of such a great team. Ever since I took that very first step through the door of our then 3rd floor office in Boston, I’ve never stopped growing as a designer, leader, and person.
I can’t wait to see what the next six years brings.
Building Learning into our Process with Prototypes
The value in prototyping isn’t in the mockups that we produce. It’s in the learning that the team gets after they test the prototype with potential users.
Merck Developer Portal Case Study
In the last few years, Merck has hired more developers in several offices around the world and adopted newer web and mobile technologies. Because of this, they realized that their developers had a huge amount of combined knowledge, most of which was contained in silos. Many people weren’t tapping into the expertise or knowledge of others within the company, or were only using personal networks to get access to isolated knowledge.