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Archive for March, 2010

Real Artists (Plan to) Ship

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Ed. note: This post is appropriate because we’re “shipping” our son to the world in just a few hours.  Wish us luck!  Posting may be slow for a little while as we adjust to a bigger family, but if you’re signed up for email updates, Twitter, or RSS, you may not even notice!

Click for photoIf you work in the tech industry, you’ve undoubtedly heard the phrase, “Real artists ship”.  It’s a quote attributed to Steve Jobs, the founder and current CEO of Apple, as a motivator for the development team of the original Macintosh computer.

In this context, shipping means getting your product out the door and into the hands of the world.  But it could mean submitting your term paper, completing a big sale, or finishing a year-long boat renovation.  Life is full of projects like these that could go on indefinitely, but ultimately have to ship in order to make a difference. 

If these projects don’t ship, they’re just hobbies.  If they don’t ship, they were just fun ideas – and ideas are a dime a dozen… everyone has good ideas.  But shipping… that’s hard.  And the rewards of shipping are reserved for the few that are able to do it, not the people who first thought of the idea.

The “problem” with starting a project with the expectation that it’ll ship is that it imposes all sorts of constraints.  The technology isn’t where you need it to be, you don’t have the time you need to do everything you want to do, or you don’t have the people or money.  In order to truly think “outside the box” you need a team that’s twice as big with twice as much money and faster computers!  Of course that’s all bogus.

Constraints are why things ship.

If you didn’t have a deadline to submit your term paper, you could tweak it forever.  If you didn’t have customers waiting for the next version of your software or competitors breathing down your neck, you could add every feature you’ve ever thought of.  You need constraints to really think about how to best solve a problem.  Constraints are good.

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Written by Mike Torres

March 29th, 2010 at 7:50 am

Backup: The Most Important Thing Your Computer Can Do

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Click for photoTaking a break from your regularly scheduled focus program for a public service announcement about backing up your computer.  Chances are good your computer isn’t backed up… and for some reason, you’re not the least bit worried about that.

My job is to make you worry.  So please stop all your focusing, getting things done, sleeping, and goal setting to read this, and then backup your computer right now.

Let’s start with the basics of your situation:

  • Your memories (baby photos, loan documents, and old music from college) are stored on a hard drive.
  • Hard drives fail every second of every day.  There’s nothing “safe” about a hard drive.
  • When your hard drive fails, chances are solid you’ll lose everything with no way to recover it.
  • It happens to everybody at some point.

Having a hard drive fail must be every bit as bad as having your house burn down was fifty years ago.  Every photo and song you own, every scan you’ve made, all of your personal documents and emails… this stuff is no longer stored in cardboard boxes in a dark attic… it’s all stored on a super-complex piece of mechanical equipment with a seriously bad failure rate that is by no means inversely correlated with its importance.  For many people reading this, your entire livelihood is being held together by little screws.  Crazy.

To be clear about why backup is important: it’s not a matter of IF your hard drive someday dies, it’s a matter of WHEN.  And it’ll probably happen without warning, like an earthquake or major power outage.  Eventually they all fail, and chances are it will be the day before you decide to backup.  50% of people have lost data from their computer at one time, and many, many people have experienced the nuclear meltdown of full data loss… that moment when the guy behind the counter tells you there’s nothing he can do: IT’S ALL GONE.

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Written by Mike Torres

March 23rd, 2010 at 8:19 am

Posted in Tools

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Always Late? Stop Living in Time Denial

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Click for photo The predominant cause of chronic lateness is a basic inability to determine – or admit – how long something takes to complete.  Of course this probably isn’t a scientific fact (yet).  So for now, just take my word for it.

Similar to how some people can’t navigate their way out of their own driveway (myself included), some of us just weren’t born with an ability to gauge elapsed or remaining time.  We consistently think we have more time than we actually do, downplaying the reality of the situation: that whatever time we have remaining, even though we think it’s enough, isn’t even close.

We forget about the little things, we assume the best of every situation, and we get caught up in a "right here, right now" mentality instead of making a clean break from the present and moving onto what’s next.  

It’s called time denial.  And you’re living in it.

Time denial isn’t just specific to chronic latecomers, most everyone falls prey to this mentality at one point or another.  Yup, even you my friend.  So stop judging the dude in the next cubicle.

You know the drill… You’re right in the middle of something that has your complete attention, all the while your next commitment is creeping up on you.  You glance at the clock, trying to squeeze in another few minutes to finish that email – or frag that alien with your rocket launcher – thinking that no matter what, you have time because it "only takes" 15 minutes to get to the office. 

By the time you pull away from your current activity, grab your coat, and run to your car, you’re already down to 14 minutes… and you need to get gas.  And of course, traffic has started building up.  Before you know it, you’re not 5 minutes late, you’re 25 minutes late!

Avoidable?  Certainly.  Acceptable?  Most certainly not.  Maybe you can get away with it the first time… if you’re a nice person.  But great things weren’t achieved showing up 25 minutes late.  Trust isn’t built by letting people down, making them wait for you and your bad habits.  Real artists of life don’t show up late all the time.

Real artists of life have integrity.

Look, time management is only as good as your relationships.  If you’re a master at managing your task list but people don’t want to work with you, or don’t trust you to show up when they expect you to, it doesn’t matter how many to-dos you’re checking off each day.  Commitments are the most important thing in business, and are pretty high on the list of "personal life" as well. 

If you find yourself showing up late all the time, you simply need to get a fix on it.

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Written by Mike Torres

March 17th, 2010 at 7:51 am

Posted in Productivity

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Sleep Better: 6 Sleep Habits To Help You Focus

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“I’ll sleep when I’m dead” – Some Anonymous Idiot

Click for photo We’ve all heard this quote, most likely from an interview in a business magazine with some mega-billionaire CEO.  Of course this person is either a walking collection of crazy or some genetically gifted mutant.  I’m actually not kidding about that mutant option, as those who thrive on little sleep may have a rare genetic mutation according to a recent sleep study at the University of San Francisco.  Of course, that mutation was found in just 2 out of 1000 study participants – so rare is right.

The rest of us need sleep and need it badly.  And we probably need more of it than we think, or at least more than we’re inclined to let ourselves get by on.

In a 2002 study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation (PDF), it was found that the majority of American adults (68%) don’t get the recommended 8 hours of sleep needed for good health and optimum performance, and more than one-third (39%) sleep less than 7 hours nightly.  Strangely (yet ironically) enough, a staggering 85% of those surveyed said they would sleep more if they knew it would improve their health.

Guess what?  It does improve your health.  And your sex life, body shape, and ability to stay awake during Avatar in IMAX 3D.  It’s also the best way to improve your mood and the way you respond when you’re frustrated or stressed out.  In other words, good sleep can keep you from being a jerk AND help you look and feel better.

Lack of sleep can also have a profound effect on memory and other cognitive skills.  In an interesting study, researchers measured cognitive function in sleep-deprived, right-handed men and found that sleep deprivation has a negative effect on cognitive functions associated with "right-brained" functions such as "motor, rhythm, receptive & expressive speech, memory and complex verbal arithmetic function." (PDF link)

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Written by Mike Torres

March 14th, 2010 at 5:03 pm

The “3S” Approach: The Lost Art of the GTD Weekly Review

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Happy first birthday Refocuser!  Check out the “best of” page for some fun posts after reading this.

Click for photo So much has been written about the Weekly Review as a part of David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) system that it feels sort of ridiculous to even entertain writing about it.  I pride myself in making this blog different – not just another GTD/life hacks wannabe poser blog thing – but at the same time, a lot of the best practices in productivity fit under the GTD umbrella.  So there will be times I feel compelled to write about GTD in all its glory.  This is one of those times.

If you’re new to GTD, this post really isn’t the best place to start as it’s only covering a small piece of what GTD is all about.  You should dive in and read the official book.  If you’re the type of person who can’t stay on top of the most important things in your life, you won’t be sorry.

First a few words about GTD.  GTD isn’t a panacea by any means.  It’s just a framework for “thinking about thinking”.  It’s updated software for your brain that will help you make sense of all the inputs and outputs in your life.  It’s also a set of habits that for some people can be hard to get into, because they require a change in behavior.  But hey, it’s ultimately just “advanced common sense” as David Allen puts it, so there’s really no excuse for not giving it a shot if you feel you need it.

The funny thing about GTD is that people tend to get so fixated on the “how” and not on the “why” of the system.  Whether you use post-it notes, Microsoft Outlook, a Moleskine notebook, or your pet hamster to track your work isn’t the important thing – the system is adaptable and should be used in the way that works best for you.  In other words, the implementation details aren’t what matter, but the way the system is used at the macro level does.

In a lot of ways this reminds me of Bruce Lee’s unique approach to fighting, Jeet Kune Do.  Stay with me for a second; other than just being three-letter acronyms, JKD is actually quite similar to GTD.  One of Lee’s most famous quotes about JKD is:

I don’t believe in different ways of fighting now, I mean, unless human beings have 3 arms and 3 legs – then we will have a different way of fighting. But basically we all have two arms and two legs so that is why I believe there should be only one way of fighting and that is no way.

In other words, there’s a reason why the best fighters in the world learn to throw a jab and execute a choke the same way.  While there are subtle differences in their own personal styles, and certain techniques that work best for some people, they’re still fighting using the same basic systems.  Chokes may be executed a little differently from person to person, but there’s a “right” way to choke that everyone starts with. 

GTD is the same way.  There are differences in people’s approach to GTD, but the foundational physics of the system are the same.  Show me a super-productive person and I can point out how that person is implementing GTD – even if they don’t know it.  It may not look exactly like the next person’s GTD (just like fighting) but the core pieces are almost always there.  And if they aren’t, well, there are likely improvements to be made!

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Written by Mike Torres

March 7th, 2010 at 3:55 pm