Reconsidering the Tone

I’ve been doing some thinking lately about the general tone of this blog. I don’t really like it anymore. My mental perspective of how I communicate with the people around me has greatly changed over the years and I want this blog to reflect that. Historically, I’ve always approached the topics I’ve talked about as something well researched or planned out. This can be fun and it’s informative for some, but I’m not writing a tutorial site.

As I’ve been working on the Living Zero posts I’ve realized that the amount of information I’m wanting to talk about far exceeds what I think my average reader will be wanting to spend in front of my blog. I hope to continue to work on the Living Zero concept, perhaps in a different medium, an ebook perhaps. My hope is instead to spend this blog talking about ideas. Things I’m considering, working on, or even just reading about. My plan with that is to post 3-5 times a week instead of my once a month posting now. I’ll still be offering my ideas on how things could be done to solve problems, but they will be more open ideas. Thoughts about business philosophy, productivity, empathy, user experience, design, development, management… whatever is crossing my brain that week.

I hope you’ll stick with me and enjoy it. Let me know if I’m writing about things you like to hear about, and I’ll do my best to keep those in mind. I hope I didn’t heavily disappoint anyone in the delay of pushing out Living Zero. I’ll still be working on it, it’s just not going to be my big priority for the blog.


Still Alive…

It’s been a long time since I originally announced my Living Zero series. My goal was to originally release a new item in the series once a week. But as it does life comes up, clients need help, and presentations must be given. I’ve had to delay the series a little more then I’ve wanted to. I think for the second item in the series I really tried to bite off a big piece all at once by addressing dealing with incoming email as a whole. I will likely be breaking the series up even further to really help me in getting things written up and making them available to my readers.

I other news too, I’m currently setting things up for the future site of Innovative Thought. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m really looking forward to seeing not only the site launch, but having more time to maintain and write for the blog.


Living Zero: Part 1, What It Feels Like

The most important thing about following an Inbox Zero practice is understanding the underlying motivation for doing so. Maintaining an inbox that contains no mail in it to distract you provides a significant change in mental stress. You’ll notice almost immediately a new feeling about the work you are currently doing. You’ll begin to feel more on top of things, and you’ll start to realize that the new feeling you have is the realization of “done”.

When we continue to maintain an inbox with hundreds, thousands, or even fifty messages we are telling our brain, “this is material I still need to review”. In most cases however this is material that we have long read and dealt with, yet we continue to maintain them in our inbox with the hope that if something happens we will have covered ourselves. When we follow an Inbox Zero methodology, and remove all of the clutter from the inbox we also remove the little voice constantly nagging away at us asking, “have I taken care of everything I need to take care of?” With the inbox completely empty there holds little doubt as to what remains to be addressed.

In many cases, some people I’ve talked to use their inbox as a way of controlling their task list. Active tasks remain unread until they are completed, and completed tasks are sorted into a project folder. This of course causes new junk messages, meeting reminders, and new tasks to get tied up with current tasks you are working on and your brain has to stress over what tasks are actually started, which aren’t, and what priority they should be in. The fact is, your email inbox should not be used to maintain your task list (more on this in the next post).

Just as with a post office mailbox, the purpose of it is to act as a temporary storage facility for you to come and get your mail. Once you have received the mail you sort them into junk mail, personal, bills, and the like. But never do you walk back outside to your mailbox and put the items back in for storage. The same rule should apply to your email inbox and it just takes a little mental retraining to get into the habit of keeping this empty.

In part two of this series I’m really going to get things rolling by talking about dealing with incoming email. I’ll be covering prioritization and concepts of how to quickly move through your inbox and get things cleared out. This is the foundation of maintaining a empty inbox, and the way you adapt these upcoming suggestions into your day will dramatically effect how you get work done.


Announcing, “Living Zero”

I’ve been hearing from a lot of friends lately that are just now beginning to look at maintaining an empty inbox throughout their day to day work. Over the last year I have successfully implemented the concept of “Inbox Zero”, and additionally came up with a pretty good organizational plan, some email best practices, and tips to really sticking with maintaining an empty inbox which I have shared to great success with other programmers, designers, and business executives alike. So in an effort to assist all of the recent converts to the “Inbox Zero” concept I will be writing a five part series over the next few weeks covering many of the concepts and daily practices of maintaining an empty, productive, and organized inbox that I have found to be so successful not only for myself but many others as well.

As the sections are released I will continue to append them to this entry to give you a single location you may go to reference in the future. Depending on the demand, I may consider releasing the information in ebook format, with additional tips in the near future. Stay tuned, the first post will be online within a few days.

This series is still under development, and links will be added to the table of contents as the sections are completed. Stay Tuned!

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. What It Feels Like
  2. Dealing with Incoming Email
  3. Styles for Organization
  4. Sending Effective Email
  5. Sticking with It (no such thing as partially done)

Easy Text File Conversion on the Mac

Like a lot of other web developers, clients provide me content for their sites/applications in all sorts of formats, and it can get a little crazy. But it turns out that a little terminal utility on the Mac can help the stress of text file conversion.

The utility is called textutil and you can access it by going into your Applications > Utilities > Terminal, running Terminal, and then typing textutil. If you type the command without any arguments you’ll see a fairly strong list of options. Textutil supports conversion of txt, rtf, rtfd, html, doc, docx, odt, wordml, and webarchive formats.

Running textutil isn’t as hard as it looks. For example, I have a lot of clients that send me material in .docx or .odt format. I like to convert them over to .rtf files for quicker review (so Word or OpenOffice doesn’t have to load up). I make sure I’m in the same directory as the file I’m working with of course, and I execute:

textutil -convert rtf -output introduction.rtf introduction.docx

Once that’s done, you’ll notice an .rtf file is now in the same directory containing the original material.

Now the power of textutil doesn’t end there. Sometimes I want to convert a bunch of files and combine them into a single file. To do that I do something like:

textutil -cat rtf -output combined_project.rtf *.docx

Doing this takes all the .docx files in the current directory and combines them into a single .rtf file called combined_project.

If you have to deal with client provided text a lot, take a serious look at textutil – it has some great features hidden within it’s depths (like font resizing).


Making Configuration Files with YAML: Revised

So back in July 2007 I posted a blog on making configuration files with YAML, and I’ve been noticing a lot of readership on the old article. Because it seems that a lot of people are reading it I felt it was important to show how I apply this nowadays.

First I put my config.yml file within the /config/ directory within my Rails application. It looks something like this:

development: &non_production_settings
  :google_analytics:
    :api_key: "[Enter Google ID]"
  :site:
    :title: "[Title]"
    :address: "http://localhost:3000/"

test:
  <<: *non_production_settings

production:
  :google_analytics:
    :api_key: "[Enter Google ID]"
  :site:
    :title: "[Title]"
    :address: "[Address]"

Then, I create a new file called load_config.rb within the /config/initializers directory. You can name the file whatever you want – that’s just what I call it. This is where the actually YAML loading is going to happen – and this is what it looks like:

raw_config = File.read(RAILS_ROOT + "/config/config.yml")
APP_CONFIG = YAML.load(raw_config)[RAILS_ENV]

Now any time I want to all one of these variables I just call it like:

<%= APP_CONFIG[:site][:title] %>

Stop Leading Your Team to The Destination, Give Them The Map

To start 2009 this will be one of the first of many business oriented posts coming to this blog. It’s great to be a technologist, but it’s important we as technologists can do something with our ideas. So I hope to provide some benefit to those of you willing to listen.

The biggest thing every executive needs to run a successful company is a vision – you can’t do crap without a vision of what it looks like. I’m not talking about a 5-year plan, or a 10-year plan… I’m talking about an idea. What do you want to be? Who are you in the realm of all of your competitors? If you don’t know this, why come in the office in the morning? What pushes you to get up everyday? There has got to be something… and that’s the first step – figure out what it is.

Once you’ve got the idea figured out, don’t tell everyone about it by commanding they follow behind you, because people will get lost and it will slow the entire process down.

Think about it for a second. If a group of people in several cars are all trying to get to the same place, but only the person in the front of the line knows how to get there. With every stop sign and stop light, every turn, and every interruption the people in the line have to check where the leader is… and in turn the leader needs to check that everyone is behind him. So instead of commanding, give everyone the map, explain the vision, and explain how they fit into the vision of what’s going on. Then with the map in hand they can get to the destination in their own right. Give your people the freedom to make small course changes on the way, side streets or pit stops, they’ll meet you at the finish line.

Let’s say part of the corporate vision is to provide a superior user experience in all of your software. If you share the map and embed that ideal in your corporate culture you’ll see how people will take charge. Jill in QA will consider it when testing. Bob in design will research the best user experience paradigm in his interface, just as Sam will do the same when programming the front end.

Have a vision, build a culture around the vision, and then let the smart people work.


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