Last night I had about six hours of time that should’ve been productive, and yet … it wasn’t.

Instead of knocking out a couple of big things I had planned on working on, I ended up staying up way too late watching Try Guys videos.

…which don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed! I think the video about them starting their own company is really inspiring, and they just have so many videos that are really entertaining… 😀

This is a balancing act that I often struggle with creatively. I’m sure a lot of people have highs and lows – times when you’re super pumped and just firing on all cylinders, and other times when you think you’re super pumped, but then you actually sit down to do some work and … it ain’t happening.

Worse yet, you don’t necessarily know that it’s the latter until after you’ve spent an entire evening being unproductive!

And at the same time, you can’t always be working because that’s how people burn out. Plus, I did enjoy what I was doing instead of working.

I suppose that’s really the crux of it – I’d like to learn how to better manage work and fun in advance to make it more of an ebb and flow as opposed to a struggle from one extreme to the other.

Cleaning Day, iPhone Edition

January 28, 2019 5:34pm
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How many apps do you have on your phone right now?

Apparently I have over 130 apps, and honestly when I started going through my list, there were some that I haven’t used in years. And some that don’t even work with the version of iOS I’m on anymore.

And also a lot that I do still use, but not nearly enough to be where they were in my seven pages of apps.

So I decided to do a little digital housekeeping!

I did this with a few goals in mind…

  • To reprioritize my social media apps to make them less distracting.
  • To reorganize my apps so the ones I use more are closer to the front.
  • To finally delete stuff that I either never use or I can’t use anymore.

Step 1 – Inventory My Current Apps
The first thing I did was simply type up a list of every app I had on my phone. I did mine in a spreadsheet and grouped them by page so I could better visualize where I was and where I wanted to be. It was a little tedious to type everything out by hand, but the benefit was that afterwards I had a list that I could easily copy & paste from to shuffle apps around as I designed my new layout.

Step 2 – DELETE THE CLUTTER!!!
Now this is a pet peeve of mine because there are a handful of games and apps that I’ve downloaded over the ages where the developers either didn’t keep up with newer versions of iOS or just flat out went out of business altogether, so now I’m stuck with all of these games that I paid money for that are absolute garbage.

This was the time to finally let ’em go, I switched my auto insurance along with other apps that I’ll never use. Case in point – the other day , so no need to keep the old company’s app anymore.

Step 3 – What do I use the most???
This is how I determined my dock apps. You only get four, so make ’em good!

I ended up only making one change here – previously I had Phone, Mail, Safari, and Twitter, so in an effort to curtail my social media time I swapped out Todoist for Twitter.

Step 4 – What do I use on a regular basis?
This is where I determined my home page, or pages, really, because I had more than one page of apps that fell into this category.

My criteria for these pages was first and foremost general purpose apps – think Calendar, Contacts, Camera, Weather, Calculator. I also put my music apps here because they’re my go-to in the car. And then WordPress, Notes, and Analytics from a writing perspective.

My overflow home page then got other research apps like Wikipedia and Dictionary, the app and music stores, Settings, the My Disney Experience app for visit the theme parks along with its companion shopping app, and lastly, a couple of apps I’ve been using for meditation.

Step 5 – Where does everything else fall?!
To be honest, by the time I had the first two pages done, I knew what I wanted to do with the rest anyways. First I created pages for each of the major categories of apps that I had, then I sorted them into those categories (a lot of my apps were already sorted this way, so this was about 50/50 clean-up vs reorganization), and then lastly I sorted the pages themselves based again on what types of apps I use the most.

I ended up with something like this…

  • Home Page
  • Overflow Home Page
  • Social Media
  • Kids Stuff
  • Banks & Restaurants
  • Quick Games
  • Long Games
  • Miscellaneous

I honestly don’t play games much on my phone, so those went at the back, second only to those seldom used apps that I didn’t want to delete like FlightAware for tracking incoming flights or Speedtest for testing Internet connections or my web host’s app that I use to remotely reboot this server if I see that it’s having problems when I’m away from a computer.

I made a new page of just apps that I have for my kids to use … in hopes that maybe they’ll stay out of the rest of my stuff! 😉

And then the others are pretty self explanatory.

BEFORE

AFTER

One sort of tip that I can offer is that it is technically possible to move multiple apps from one page to another … the reason for my hesitation is that at least for me, it was really touchy and sometimes more of a pain than it was worth. I’d find myself with a few apps selected, then drop them all trying to get the next one, or there would be a few that I couldn’t select at all. Still, you can give it a try and see how it works for you…

Cleaning up my phone has been something that I’ve been putting off for a long time, but honestly it took maybe an hour once I finally sat down and just did it. don’t recommend skipping the list and just trying to reorganize right on the phone, namely because if you don’t plan out precisely how many pages you need, it’s easy to find yourself doing a lot of extra shuffling when you realize that you’re a page short in the very middle of your layout!

Here’s to hoping that this will make my phone a little less distracting and once again more of a useful tool in my effort to try and actually get things done this year!!!

Late Night Productivity Tips

January 20, 2019 12:38am
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I shared this link a couple of weeks ago during a bit of a productivity binge that I was on at the time, but now that a couple of weeks have passed, I wanted to circle back to it and go through some of my favorite ideas and add a few comments about how they’ve been working for me…

Why Focus Is Your Greatest Competitive Advantage at Work (Plus 19 Ways To Actually Do It)

7. Schedule your email time.
It’s taken me a long time to get into the mindset that I don’t have to respond to something the second it appears in my inbox, but it’s incredibly freeing and helps me to dive deeper into important tasks when I give myself permission to wait until later in the day. I’ve also found that surprisingly it can help your co-workers to become more self sufficient because if it’s important enough that they need an answer immediately, sometimes that’ll drive them to start looking for the answer themselves!

…and nothing’s more rewarding than getting that follow-up email, “Nevermind – I just found this on your team’s website…” 😉

8. Keep a to-do list with focused, actionable items.
I recommitted myself to using the Todoist app at the beginning of the year and so far, I think it’s really helping. I feel more productive and less overwhelmed, and I can look across my work to plainly see that I”m getting more of it done, even when there are days when I feel like I just postponed all of my tasks to the following day!

10. Schedule your daily to-do’s.
I find this is a good way to spend my commute in the car … which I otherwise despise, but at least I can feel like I’m being somewhat productive if I take the time to go over everything I want to get done today and figure out what I’m doing first, what I’m doing after lunch, and so forth.

15. Keep a “read later” list.
This actually has been helping me to keep less tabs open in my browser, which in theory should lead to less distractions! I just need to also remember to make time to check back on it so that it doesn’t just become a list of stuff that I never got around to reading.

16. Keep a “bright ideas” repository.
This is easy enough to do in Todoist – if I think of a blog or column idea that I want to work on, I just throw it into my Writing project without a specific deadline … unless it’s something I want to write in the near future, then it does get a date attached to it. Again, here I feel like my biggest challenge is going to be simply remembering to look back every once in a while so that all of my great ideas don’t get lost to the void!

19. Forgive yourself when your day doesn’t go as planned.
And this one, frankly, is huge for me because I have toddlers at home, and sometimes work flares up in unexpected ways, and I know that in the past I’ve lost a lot of time just being angry with myself for not working on something that I was trying to get done in that particular moment. In reality, I know that stuff is still getting done, even if it’s not exactly what I had planned, and at some point it’s important to give yourself credit for that because otherwise it’s really hard to be productive when you’re also beating yourself up.

I Need Better Sleep…

January 17, 2019 10:58am
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If I had to guess, I probably get 3-4 nights of “good sleep” a week. And honestly, sometimes it’s more just decent than good.

Because I always have so much do to after the kids go to bed, it’s a pretty regular thing for me to stay up really late one night and then pay for it by being super tired the next day and eventually crashing early when I get home. It’s a vicious cycle, and in the end I know that it’s more unproductive than, say, going to bed at a consistent time every night and then making due with the time that I have each day.

But I don’t know how to break the cycle…

Lately I’ve noticed bursts of energy, followed by lulls throughout the day. I’m good in the morning, then sluggish after lunch. Another burst late afternoon into the early evening, then slowly coasting downward as I go home and see the kids before bedtime. When they go down is when I really start to crash because Christopher likes to turn all of the lights out in the house before he goes to sleep, and in the event that I don’t fall asleep myself waiting for him to crash, I’m very tired at that point. Until around 11:30 pm when my night owl-ism tends to kick in and then I want to get to work!

Of course, if I start working on something just before midnight, that ends up leaving me with only a few hours of sleep because I have to get up between 8 and 9 am to take Christopher to school, and then I’ll be dragging the rest of the day until I can officially crash myself.

I’ve even gone so far as to map out what I think an ideal day with adequate sleep would look like for me, but I just can’t seem to execute on it and make it a reality. I can’t seem to find the discipline needed to implement a new schedule, so instead I’m doing this back and forth thing that can’t possibly be good for my general health and sanity!

As one often does at the beginning of a new year, I’ve been thinking a lot about productivity and ways that I can get more things done to make this year my absolute best yet.

It started with returning to using a to-do list app – in this case, Todoist – and along with the tracking and accountability, it’s also lead me to change how I look at my work not only to keep myself more upbeat and positive in hopes that it shows through in the things that I do, but also in carrying that perspective through to work that I maybe didn’t get done or needed to postpone to avoid The Negative Cloud of Failure from holding me back even further…

My new strategy is something that I’m definitely piecing together a little bit at a time, but here’s where I’m at right now…

  1. Always remember that postponing a task isn’t failure. Work sometimes gets delayed for a variety of reasons, and it doesn’t do any good to dwell on them. Plus, sometimes a task scheduled for today gets bumped for something else that ended up being more important – life goes on!
  2. Start and end my day knowing my priorities. I’m trying to get in the habit of making Todoist my first stop online, even before social media or email, because it helps me to mentally plan my day. I like to end there, too, as it gives me a chance to review what tasks are leftover and reconsider their priorities as I reschedule them.
  3. Keep my number of tasks manageable. The last time I used Todoist, it eventually got backlogged with literally years worth of old tasks until it became daunting and frankly depressing to see my list of incomplete tasks growing more than shrinking. So instead, I try not to put every little thing there, and if a single day has more than about half a dozen tasks, I know that I need to trim it up to keep from getting overwhelmed.
  4. Have multiple kinds of work available. I’m not always in the mood for working on certain kinds of tasks, so instead of spinning my wheels all day, I’ve found it’s helpful to keep a variety in my pipeline so I can work on things that excite me as productivity fuel as much as possible!
  5. Look at work as smaller pieces instead of one big task. A great example – my home office has been the place to dump everything for almost a year, so it’s a real mess. I’m trying to clean it up, but it’s certainly not a task I can tackle in an evening. Instead, I’ll put something like Office Cleaning, part 4 as a task on my list and when I get to it, I’ll spend some time filing or cleaning up a portion – something I can do in an hour or two. And only when I get #4 completed do I add #5 to the list – that way I’m not constantly tripping over tasks.

One other thing I’m thinking of doing is setting up a dedicated monitor by my desk that just displays my current task list (I like the Next 7 Days option in Todoist because it gives me a glimpse of a week or so at a time).

I could either just have a browser with the Todoist website open directly, or I see that DAKboard now offers integration with Todoist as well and I’ve really come to like them for my digital calendar.

Right now I tend to keep it open in a browser tab at all times, but I think something more front and center might also help to keep me more accountable when I feel like killing time around Facebook or Twitter instead of knocking out a quick blog post or something! Especially when you’ve got tasks of various sizes, being able to look at your to-do list and think, “Hey – that will take me about 20 minutes and I’ve got half an hour right now, so why don’t I do it instead of watching videos on YouTube?!” is great for being able to feel more productive at the end of the day because you were more productive!

Over time I’d like to slowly expand my usage to be able to track more long term goals and ideas – for example, right now I’ve got a project in Todoist for things I want to read/watch/listen to but didn’t have time to when I stumbled across them. It’s easy enough to just copy & paste a website link, but for ideas I’d like to add more context and notes if I have them – kind of like what you might do in Evernote or a totally different app.

think you can do that in the paid version of Todoist, and if my newfound momentum keeps up for weeks and months, I can see how it could easily be worth the whopping $3/month … but again, baby steps right now as I just ease back into things and really try to feel out a system that works right for me! 😉

In my ongoing attempt to make 2019 my best and most productive year to date, one of the ideas that I’ve been exploring is how I should best spend my time.

I’ve already written about the downsides of social media, and that’s definitely something that I’m trying to curb in search of this new me.

But at the same time, sometimes I struggle because not everyone online is bad – in fact, that’s been a major concern whenever I distance myself from social media is that I’m going to lose track of the people who I really do want to follow in the process!

So one thing that’s helped is taking a look at each of my interests and thinking about whose insights and opinions I really value in those areas. And those are the people who I’m primarily following, on social media and elsewhere.

Because I figure if I’m going to spend time reading stuff on the Internet, why not steer clear of the random strangers and drama queens and instead devote my time to people who I actually care about?!

Here’s my list so far…

These are all people who inspire me, they make me laugh, and the things that they do make me happy, so if push comes to shove, I’d rather kill a few minutes checking out something new that one of them did than arguing with some random stranger on Facebook. 😉

I wanted to share a couple more links that I enjoyed while I was reading about productivity and best catering to your employees’ potential last night.

I’ve got to say that more and more, I’m finding myself becoming a real proponent of asynchronous communications – maybe it’s because it’s starting to feel like real time communications and this on-demand mentality are kind of, well, exhausting … to the point where it makes me wonder what kinds of changes an organization could see simply by moving away from the constant fire drills and everything is urgent mentality and instead allowed for the time needed for everyone on their teams not only to just breathe, but also to frankly put a little more thought into their decision making process that only not being rushed really allows.

I know that I can definitely think of some examples where I’ve been up super late working on code because I was in the zone, being super productive … only to have to deal with the fallout the next day when someone was looking for me first thing in the morning when they got in and didn’t care that I’d been kicking out some of my best work at 3am while they were long asleep!

Sure, it can be hard to break free from the mindset of “I have a question that’s holding me back and I need it answered now!”, but for me it’s really just a matter of remembering that everyone else has jobs, too, and they’re not typically waiting around for the phone to ring or an IM or email to pop up begging for on call assistance. 😉

It was only a few years ago when I finally decided that I wasn’t always going to answer my phone the moment that it rang, particularly if I was deep in the middle of something. And honestly that came from sitting back and realizing that pretty much 9 times out of 10, they were almost always calls that could either be answered via five minutes of research using tools that my team had already provided, or they were follow-ups to explain an email that they’d just sent to me minutes earlier!

Seriously!

Anywho – here’s some more food for thought on this topic that I found intriguing. Happy reading!

Why Focus Is Your Greatest Competitive Advantage at Work (Plus 19 Ways To Actually Do It)
https://blog.todoist.com/2015/09/01/how-to-focus-better-at-work/

Managing a Remote Team: Best Practices from Doist’s Head of Marketing
https://blog.doist.com/building-and-managing-a-remote-team-2cd0ee4ccb5f

Why We’re Betting Against Real-Time Team Messaging
https://blog.doist.com/why-were-betting-against-real-time-team-messaging-521804a3da09

I stumbled across this post this evening and it really got me thinking about the 40-hour work week that’s expected in America, along with other employment standards that are surprisingly unique to our country, and how businesses might be able to differentiate themselves from the pack by steering away from them…

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/busyness-modern-health-crisis-benjamin-cardullo/

Through working with colleagues from all over the world, I find it really interesting … albeit also a bit disappointing … to learn how much better their workplace customs are than the ones we’ve come to accept here in the States.

Maternity Leave – Because let’s be honest, FMLA isn’t maternity leave … at least not unless you’re able to survive on 60% of your income during it.

Paternity Leave – I really wish this had been a thing when my wife and I were struggling after pregnancy with kids in the NICU…

Vacation Rollover – Here in Florida I’m allowed to rollover 1 week of unused vacation time to the new year, yet my colleagues in India are legally allowed a month of time!

Vacation Days in General – Don’t even get me started on this, comparing US holidays to the rest of the world… 😛

It’s pretty obvious when you look across the board that most US companies subscribe to the mentality of toeing the line instead of really getting creative and offering environments that foster happier employees, and in turn better output, than just the same old, same old that every firm down the street is doing as well.

How would your work week change if you suddenly shifted to a 30-hour work week instead of 40?

Or what if you were allowed to pick whatever hours worked best for you, even if they weren’t necessarily all in a row?

Or what if instead of even having an office at all, you and your colleagues all worked remotely and got together in Paris or London or San Francisco or Australia once a year to get to know each other better and collaborate, like Automattic does?

In a lot of ways, I feel like we’ve become experts at working harder, but not necessarily smarter here, whereas I think an employer would be amazed at what their employees could do if they invested more of their efforts into making the American work culture the envy of the world instead of being those schlups who answer the phones all summer while everyone in Europe is off on holiday for a month at a time!

I know that where I’m at personally in my life, anything that can be done to save me time is a welcome force – whether it’s by shortening my time spent juggling meetings at the office or making sure that I get to actually both take and enjoy the vacation time that I earn each year.

And if we were to really drill down into productive vs unproductive time at work, I’d be willing to bet that giving everyone 10 hours a week back from their daily grind would make the rest of their time spent less burdened by distractions and errands and ultimately result in more output in the quality aspect instead of the current default of the quantity, anyways.

So what if an employer strived to get less hours out of their employees instead of more???

For a while now, I’ve said that time is my most precious resource.

I have a young family, a stressful job, and more ambitions than I have the time I’d like to fully indulge in, so often I find myself watching the clock even more so than I do my checking account balance. I can always make more money (sort of!), but no matter how hard I try, there are still only so many hours in a day at my disposal.

So for the last four years – specifically since the day that Christopher was born – I’ve been a telecommuter, working out of my home office and only going in for meetings that couldn’t be handled over the phone … which let’s be honest, in this day and age were few and far between!

I found that working from home was a good fit for me because it kept me in close proximity if Sara needed any help with the boys during the day. She still handled most of their daily care, but if she needed a hand changing a particularly messy diaper or wanted to share something adorable that they were doing, I could take a short break and come help.

It also made it so much more convenient that she could run to the store or go pickup Christopher from school while the twins were napping because I was still in the house with them doing my work.

It was a great system that came crashing to an end recently when my employer announced that they were ending our telecommuting policy. No discussion, no exceptions – they just wanted everyone back in the office to facilitate collaborations, despite the fact that we’re a global company and most of the people who I collaborate with are located in other countries… 🙁

I’m not going to rant and rave about that because this isn’t the time or the place, but what I can say is that over the years I’ve definitely learned that office life really isn’t for me. At least not right now it isn’t – the fixed schedules aren’t conducive to my life with three young kids, the commute is a giant waste of precious time, and in the end I know that I’m personally far more productive working privately at home without all of the distractions that come from working in the same building as 500 other people.

Sometimes other workers have a negative opinion towards telecommuters because they think that they’re just sitting at home, goofing off all day long.

I know because for a while I was one of those people who hated hearing that somebody was working from home that day because often times it was tough to get a hold of them, and frankly there was probably a bit of jealousy in wishing that *I* was sitting at home on my couch with my laptop instead of stuck in a stuffy cubicle for 10 hours a day, slowly watching my life flash before my eyes, too!

But the thing that I realized once I started enjoying the comforts of telecommuting regularly for myself is this – just because someone is physically in the office doesn’t mean that they’re actually doing anything productive with their time.

You can screw around at the office just as easily as you can at home – wandering from one co-worker’s desk to another for just a few minutes of idle chat, meetings that are booked for far longer time than they actually require, aimless web surfing and social media browsing, or even just taking an hour for a task that should take any reasonable person five minutes … don’t let anyone claim credit for being busier than you are just because they did it wearing pants. 😉

So needless to say, my world is even a bit more chaotic than normal right now because I feel like my precious time is even more constrained than ever. Not being able to throw up a load of laundry or wash a few dishes to help reduce the pile in the sink on my lunch break is already starting to take its toll and tensions within the family are higher because we don’t see each other nearly as much as we used to.

In a way, it really makes me think about work and why it is that we work the way that we do because it doesn’t always have to be this way.

Some jobs, of course, require a physical presence – retail, dining, hospitality, shipping – but for jobs that put us sitting at desks for 50 hours a week and with so many online tools to allow people to work together from all corners of the globe, the reasons are few and far between why people should be tethered to one certain desk to put in their time and it’s hard to see how the positives could possibly outweigh the negatives when you consider how freeing it can be for an employee to have more control over how they spend their day.

Right now I’m struggling to adjust – I’ll get by, but I’m not really happy about it. The upside is that it’s forcing me to reconsider some things that I’ve let slide for far too long out of a sense of just being comfortable. I’ve got a few ideas for ways to change things up, and I’m getting to the point in my life where I’m less willing to take no for an answer – 2,400 hours a year is just too much time to spend discontent.

I suppose we’ll see what happens! 😉

#ServerProgress

December 20, 2016 8:56pm
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Update: Got the scottsevener.com network of sites moved back over to its new home, everything is resolving correctly and not in 48 seconds per page load, and it’s being served through Varnish + Apache … woohoo!

Mind you, I’m not entirely sure that it’s configured correctly because speeds aren’t tons faster, but we’ll work on configuration tweaking another day … I’ve got so much catch-up writing to do now… 😛

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