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Corkboard Productivity

There’s a corkboard downstairs in what I enjoy calling the ‘machine shop’.

In fact, there are 2 corkboards. A big one on the main wall, behind a heavy, wooden desk with a dozen perfectly sized drawers – and a second, smaller one on the back wall.

When we moved into this house 3 years ago, I hung all the tools I’ve acquired over three decades on hooks on the corkboards.

Now I could see them.

All neatly organized.

It was at the moment I realized…

After years of hauling multiple toolboxes from rented apartment to rented apartment to rented apartment, what I really needed was a better understanding of how use use these tools.

The corkboard shrugged.

Merlin Mann, thanks for reminding me of my corkboard.

Makebelieve Help, Old Butchers, and Figuring Out Who You Are (For Now) from Merlin Mann on Vimeo.

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How I Reached Inbox Zero(ish)

Something must be in the air. Like Dave, I’ve been making a concerted effort to clean out my email inbox over the past couple weeks.

All year, I’ve been fluctuating between 80 – 140 messages, not including the hundreds sitting in my ‘Respond to’ folder.

For the past week, I’ve been steadily at Inbox Zero.

With 17 2 in my ‘Respond to’ folder and the oldest message is from June ’09 not Feb ’09.

Here’s how I’ve tamed my inbox in 3 steps:

  1. Read each email message and determine a what the next action is.
    This is the hardest step.
  2. Write down the next action.
    I have a ThingsToDo.txt file I use w/ Quicksilver’s Append Text to File action.
  3. Ruthlessly file into a project folder or delete.

All of this is leading up to a couple ideas I want to implement for ongoing communications management – but it will only work once this backlog is cleaned out.

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Distraction Elimination Week: Day 4: Visual Field

There are 2 major visual field distrations; inside the monitor, outside the monitor.

First, inside the monitor:
Since 1997, my desktop background has been “Solid Gray Medium”. I’ve played with other shades of gray, but always found SGM to be the most neutral, keeping the focus on the applications I’m working in and making screenshots very easy. I’ve seen backgrounds that cycle through a photo library or show pictures of kids or pets. All of those are terribly distracting for me, especially since I don’t own any pets.

More recently, I’ve introduced a ‘clean out’ folder. This folder has 2 purposes; be the only thing on the desktop, be empty. The former is much more common than the latter. This is the ‘download folder’ for all browsers and where I send interesting URLs, text clippings, etc. It’s my non-email inbox. Like my email, I sort the items of my ‘clean out’ directory in reverse chronological order. Far easier than hunting down things in a cluttered Desktop.

Now, outside the monitor
This is the stuff in your office that peaks into your visual field. The door that’s not quite shut, the flickering light, the crocked picture, the pile of papers. There are 2 very effective ways to solve this problem; get a bigger monitor to hide them, actually getting out of your chair and fixing the things that are bugging you.

I encourage both approaches, as both will calm you make you ask yourself, “why haven’t I done this sooner?”

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Distraction Elimination Week: Day 3: Applications

I normally have around 10 different applications open and running at any given time – a persistent set of communications apps (Adium,, SpamSieve), a couple browsers (Safari, Camino), and the 2-4 apps necessary for whatever I’m doing at the time.

Adium’s Preferences really let you dial it’s presence down.
In Advanced > Contact List > Window Handling select Automatically hide the contact list > While Adium is in the background.
This effectively hides Adium when it’s not the active application, like when you’re not sending messages.

Unlike, Adium let’s you turn off the unread message icon in the Dock
Preferences > Advanced > Messages and uncheck Display a message count badge.

In Camino, I’ve turned off Flash animations – so much less annoying when they’re a click away. Preferences > Web Features and check Block Flash animations

Lastly, I played with Growl for half a day, while its purpose is to provide a single channel for all notifications, it was too much and felt like I was on a Windows box. If my job was to watch Growl all day, it’d be perfect. But that’s not my job.

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Distraction Elimination Week: Day 2: OS X Finder

The human eye is extremely sensitive to changes in the visual field – especially in the periphery. The OS X Finder places quite a few distractions – changing things unrelated to the task at hand – in the edges of the screen.

Let’s eliminate them.

Start by opening up System Preferences:

Dock: Check "Automatically hide and show the Dock"
This will hide any dock-icon based indicators (unread mail, etc).

Bluetooth > Settings: Uncheck "Show Bluetooth status in the menu bar"
This keeps any change in your Bluetooth status from distracting you.

Energy Saver > Options: Uncheck "Show battery status in the menu bar"
This keeps the changing battery indicator from distracting you.

Sound > Options: Uncheck "Show volume in the menu bar"
The indicator that shows up when you change the volume is so much better.

Date & Time > Clock: Uncheck "Show the date and time"
It was the changing clock that started me on this quest to eliminate distractions. My replacement – the world clock Dashboard Widget.

Now open up Internet Connect, select AirPort and Uncheck
"Show AirPort status in menu bar"
This keeps changes in the wifi signal from distracting you (you’ll probably feel it in the page loads if something happens, to verify an issue, open up Internet Connect).

Tomorrow, we’ll go through some other apps. Until then Command + H.

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Why I Prefer Working Outta the Home Office

“You’d think working in close proximity to your co-workers would keep you accountable, but most times it has the opposite effect. We actually attempt to hide ourselves in a cloud of co-workers hoping no one notices our lack of speed and productivity.” – Arik Jones

Unless everyone in the office is working on the exact same part of the same project – where the office should be excited and alive – the office should be dead quiet, otherwise someone is being distracting.

Between email, IM, and phone, I have close virtual proximity to my co-workers. These are far lower-fidelity interruptions (and therefore more productive) than a shouting over the cubicle wall or hanging out next to my desk.

Many offices I’ve been in were too much about socializing around reality TV programs for my taste. The most productive offices I’ve been in? I had a desk in the back corner of an otherwise empty room. Made me think I should just work from home.