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Friday, March 28, 2008

Earth Hour

Ecogeek has a post today on an initiative called Earth Hour, in which companies and individuals around the world turn off their lights in a show of recognition of climate change. While as South Africans many of us may joke about Eskom making the decision for us it is worth taking part in. Unfortunately this is a bit short notice as the scheduled time is 8pm tomorrow evening, but I'm sure you can think of something to do with the lights out for an hour ;)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Pond gets refilled

Since Noelle has decided to do a bit of blogosphere marketing for The Pond, I thought I would follow suite. The Pond is a discussion forum that surfaced years ago after some silly politics at a well known local gaming forum. It doesn't have any real thematic focus, with the only common threads amongst members being their roughly similar age and their ability to hold a lively and relevant (as well as grammatically correct) debate. As Noelle puts it:

You'll find a smallish group of twenty- to thirty-something South Africans who enjoy everything from video games to movies to cross-stitch to wine to political discussions, and much much more.

The forum has just been moved to a new server and board technology, accompanied by a fresh coat of paint. So if you feel you would enjoy a bit of intelligent discussion over topics as diverse as pop culture, current events and needlework then hop on by and have a look around-just be sure to bring your thesaurus and dictionary :)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Effective Internet Lockdown: Tasks and note-taking

Recently I wrote about the habits I have established to get my Internet use under control and have all things 'net be less distracting. Two of the key points were to plan your day ahead of time, and to break up web workflow by noting incoming links (for example in emails and instant messages) for later perusal. Key to this strategy is having an effective way of listing, prioritising and generally organizing tasks. There are many tools out there to do the job, from paper sticky notes to text files to full blown task management software, and they all have their pros and cons.

My choice of software for these tasks is governed by a pair of simple requirements:

  1. It must be flexible but easy to use.
  2. I must be able to add and view items at any time.

Based on these needs I have settled on Google Notebook.

Flexible but easy to use

Much like using a collection of text files, notebook's loose organization makes it incredibly flexible, yet it's easy to add new items and sections, move them around and alter them. Unlike text files though, there is some inherent level of organization to get you started. My layout of choice is based on an excellent Lifehacker article on using Notebook as a GTD tool, with a few tweaks. This setup allows me to easily copy-paste tasks or task related stuff from emails, IMs, or any other running application into my inbox or an already in progress action (or to cheat a bit and fast-track it to a new task in my next actions list).

Add and view items at any time

  While many people may be able to deal with a variety of input methods for their 'system' and are happy to spend time copying scribbled notes into their lists during their weekly review, I prefer a more streamlined approach. Besides Notebook's nifty browser plugin that makes it easy to grab snippets out of any web page for future reference, the mobile version of the Notebook page makes capturing of notes on the go a snap-and they are ready and waiting when I sit down to plan for the next day.

But wait, there's more!

There are of course other little features in Notebook that I enjoy, such as the rich formatting and the ability to share notebooks. The 'feature' I most like though is one that isn't really related to Notebook itself, it's just the ability to use it as a desktop item in Windows. This means my notes and actions are just a <Windows+D> key press  away at all times, and I don't have to have a 'proper' browser running and risk the distractions that come with it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Go, Go, Green!

I just had to mention a pair of inspiring posts that appeared on two of the blogs I subscribe to.

Idiot advertisers

Hank from the EcoGeek blog posted a statement to the U.S. Coal Lobby, who's banner advertising 'clean coal' ended up on the blog for a couple of hours. The statement is quite powerful, and I love the first line:

"'re not green. You're full of crap."

Having grown up in a (stinky, smoggy, asthma-inducing) coal mining town I can only agree with every word. Sad then that Eskom is focusing on coal power moving forward to solve our electricity crisis.

You CAN make a difference

Then there's Colin from the NoImpactMan blog that posted an inspiring rant about how we optimists can make a difference. Despite all the nay-sayers and skepticism, our faith in humanity and belief that things can be better are not wasted. Screw realism, stick to optimism. A choice quote from that post:

"I believe in the goodness of human nature. I believe we can get distracted by many things, but that, ultimately, we all want to do what is best. Because that is true of people, I believe we can make the planet better for all of us, that we can have peace, feed the hungry and end war."

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Effective Internet Lockdown: Good Habits

I have written before about what a distraction I find the Internet to be, and how much of a lure it can be to pull me away from work. I have even logged a sort of self-challenge, with the idea of making myself accountable for Internet usage (very much like a Zen Habits forum Monthly Challenge). Well I have been contemplating blogging about my current (very successful) solution for a while now and Zen Habit's recent post on a similar topic has reinforced the idea.

I realized that both the tools and the practices are important aspects, but posting about both in one long entry would be a bit long-winded, so I'll split them. This post will just outline the practice, and i will detail the tools in upcoming posts.

1. Plan ahead for your day

Many self-help organizational gurus recommend you plan every day for the following day, and it makes a difference as your priorities are predetermined, rather than being worked out on-the-fly. Whether you spend the last five minutes at work planning for the next day, or wait until you get home to do it so your mind has had a chance to clear out all the work distractions (as I do) it is time well spent.

2. Don't connect first thing when you get in

Checking your email, (auto)starting instant messaging and checking feeds, forums and websites when you first get in and sit down at your desk sets the tone for the rest of the workday. Make the first work-related thing you planned for the day before your number one priority in the morning and you're already off to a good start.

3. Schedule your web time

Treating your web time as you would work appointments helps you to limit them because you're specifically mindful of their start and end time. I check my email at 10am as part of my tea break, do my browsing at lunchtime and inly turn my IM on when I need it for work or it hits 4pm. One catch here is to treat web appointments as low priority, so if you're in a zone working on the first item of the day (as planned and started above) you don't end up interrupting that flow because you 'have to' check your mail.

4. Kill it if you don't need it

Having to start an application can be a useful deterrent while leaving it open makes it easier to get distracted. When you are done with your email, or have achieved what you needed to with your IM or browser, close it. This extends to widget based desktop tools as well, if it will distract you then keep it closed.

5. Kill all notifications

Your time should be yours to control, notifications take that away from you and have the potential to start you stumbling from one distraction to another. You don't need to know the moment an email comes in, a new instant message arrives or a new item appears on a website. If it's not practical to turn off web applications, by turning off all visual and audio notifications you regain control over your time.

6. Break up the web work flow

The ease of stumbling from one online distraction to another is one of the reasons it is such a huge time waster. Rather than click on links in emails in instant messages, add them to your todo list so that you can check them out at your scheduled browsing time and reserve email time for checking and responding to emails.

7. Use RSS to take control of your browsing

Websites today are cluttered with links just begging to keep you stumbling from one site to another. That uncontrolled browsing is time wasting and for the most part completely pointless. RSS feeds present you with the content of websites, without all the extra junk. Pick a good RSS client, add the feeds of your favorite sites and you will be able to do all your browsing in one place and much more efficiently with far less load time. Managing RSS feeds is a topic all it's own and I'll cover that in a future post.

8. Use and respect IM status

Status messages are a common but frequently neglected form of web etiquette that can actually save you from enormous amounts of wasted time. If your IM must be on for work purposes, set your status to busy when you don't want to be disturbed and if possible set a more detailed message that strongly reinforces the message. If someone ignores this and tries chatting anyway, ignore them. You in turn need to respect your and others' IM status by not disturbing people when their status is set to busy and not initiating chats when yours is set to busy. People will quickly learn that in your case at least, busy means busy.

These simple guidelines will save you heaps of web time, an din future posts I'll go into more detail about tools and practices for specific sites.


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