I regularly use an app called Remember the Milk. Remember the Milk is a to-do list that syncs across my computer and smart phone. It has multiple lists so that I can categorize things a little bit. It has priorities so that I can sort things according to near-term and far term. It does due dates. It does notes. It saves URLs. It’s a pretty comprehensive little app.
Remember the Milk is my “bucket” for the Getting Things Done method. David Allen suggested in Getting Things Done that he needed to have some trusted, central location to put to-do items. By having such a trusted place to put all his to-do’s, he could put them out of his mind and focus on doing something. Trying to keep track of all the things he was afraid of forgetting in his head made him almost crazy. He calls this trusted to-do list his “bucket.”
I try to do the same. When I’m reading email or working on a project, I look for to-do’s. Even cleaning the house brings up to-do’s (like buying soap or ordering vacuum bags). Trying to hold those in my head would drive me crazy. My head is full. Instead, they all go in the app. If I have an idea for a blog, it goes in the app. If I remember that I need to change the oil in the car, it goes in the app. Then they get sorted out later.
How do I sort them? I find that Covey’s First Things First method is most appropriate for me. He divides things according to importance and urgency. Things that are important-and-urgent are Quadrant I. Things that are important-but-not-urgent are Quadrant II. The non-important are divided into Quadrants III and IV accordingly.
Everything goes in the bucket. The bucket get sorted into the quadrants. The to-do’s get done immediately, go on the calendar (if there’s a due date) or go on the scrum board (if they are Q2 – important but have no due date). Some things get thrown away. The shorter the list, the happier I am.
I believe in public funding for science and especially revolutionary, high-risk/high-reward projects. Most of those projects will fail. That scares the funding agencies. It looks like a lot of wasted money. But I think that’s the price for innovation.
We need to fill the beginning of the pipeline with lots of good ideas. When something works, there will be plenty of motivation to move it down the pipe. There are big rewards at the end of the pipe. I think that’s great. I just want there to be more support at the beginning.
For projects that do have support (and not necessarily government support), I also see the little human weaknesses as a real problem holding back important projects. The two projects that come to mind are Open Source Ecology and Paul Wheaton’s Permaculture community.
This article (brilliantly titled The Post-Apocalypse Survival Machine Nerd Farm) reminded me of what it was like to live with roommates. Not everyone is equally motivated. Not everyone wants to volunteer their hours getting up early to build a DIY tractor. And not everyone knows that about themselves. It sounds amazing: sustainable agriculture, technical puzzles, building great things, sharing new technology with the world… Utopia! But the reality is pooping in a bucket and getting up at 6AM to troubleshoot a burst hydraulic line.
The Permies community ran into a similar issue. The Wheaton Labs Farm invited a bunch of people to come out and live and plant and experiment with sustainable agriculture. But people didn’t want to do dishes or do the hand towel laundry. A lot of the unsustainable parts of our culture are a direct result of our coping with these little irresponsible things. Why use paper plates and paper towels? Because nobody wants to take care of the dishes and laundry.
The bottom line is that there are natural resources and technology… but getting people to cooperate and do the unpleasant work is the hard part. That’s no surprise, I suppose. It’s just funny that the difference between utopia and dystopia… at the micro level… is doing the dishes.
So why is it that feeling overwhelmed leads to procrastination? That’s like feeling hungry preventing me from eating. It must be one of the most strange and illogical impulses. Do you have too much to do? Better clean your desk.
I blocked distraction sites from my work browser (I use leechblock). That didn’t help, strangely. Other tricks:
Brain.fm – focus
Pomodoro – Set a timer for 25 min sprints + 5 min breaks
Amazon prime comes with music – try Liquid Mind or Mozart for Meditation
Coffee. Lots of coffee.
I have tried three different meditation apps and found all of them have very good points. The first app I tried was called Headspace. It is well organized, habit-forming, and I like Andy Puddicombe’s voice (he’s the founder of Headspace and does all the guided meditations). He also did a TED talk which I suspect increased his visibility and gave his app a big boost. The only complaint I have about headspace is that it is very expensive. It costs $13 per month (though they have discounts for longer-term subscriptions). Their lifetime membership cost is $400. For me, it was worth it for one year to learn the skill, but not worth it for multiple years.
Brain.FM is a browser/mobile app that plays binaural beats while you work so that you can focus better. Binaural beats are an odd perceptual phenomenon. If you play two sounds that have almost the same frequency, the interference between the two waveforms makes what is called a beat frequency (beat frequency youtube demo). Here’s the weird thing: if you play one tone into your left ear, and a second tone into your right ear, you perceive the beat frequencies despite the waves not physically interfering with each other. Our brain reconstructs the beat frequency from the difference between the two tones. Supposedly, if that beat frequency matches certain brainwave frequencies, it can induce certain moods and mental states.
I don’t know if that is going to work for everyone. There seems to be some evidence that binaural beats do affect brain waves. It does seem to help me: there are different binaural beats for sleep, focus, and meditation. All of them seem to perform as advertised for me. The brain.FM app also has several guided meditations that I find useful. I got the lifetime subscription to brain.FM with a discount code; that offer seems to have expired, but there do seem to be other discounts available from time to time.
The third app I tried for meditation is Calm.com. The app can act as a background noise generator. It can make the sound of splashing water or wind through the trees (and several other pleasant sounds). I liked those when I was working in a shared office and needed some background noise to help me tune out distractions. They now offer several guided meditations and “sleep stories.” I’m excited to try sleep stories. I guess it’s like a meditative bedtime story to help you go to sleep. I usually don’t fall asleep well if I can hear talking or music. Still, I have found that a relaxation exercise before bed does help me sleep.
Bonus: I have also tried the insight timer which has a simple timer with chimes at regular intervals. It also has community-uploaded guided meditations. A few of those are good but most of them have a lot of ambient music that I don’t like very much (think sitars, zithers and didgeridoos).
I get the impression that there are not all that many people interested in Utopia (as a concept). Maybe we’re a bit more skeptical than folks were in the 1800s. Or maybe charismatic leaders just don’t gain so much traction in an era with electronic criminal records and background checks.
The good parts of living with room mates were really good. A built in social network and a always-on source of good conversation and affirmation? Yeah. Doing other peoples’ dishes… not so much.
I follow three projects with utopian visions:
Open Source Ecology
Paul Wheaton’s Permaculture community
I love that these folks are putting their experiences out there. It’s exciting to see folks trying to build something grand. It’s even interesting to watch the setbacks. I don’t know how much popular interest there is in this kind of thing.