Damned good advice

Shane Nickerson's "11 things it took me 42 years to learn" is damned good advice:

5. Stop comparing your life to others. Your life has nothing to do with theirs. You imagine their world to be perfect, but it never is. Find your own happiness, be happy for others successes, and fight that envy. It will tear you up and make you hard to be around. Dump your cynicicm, while you’re at it. It’s cheap and simple.

6. Go where life blows you. So to speak. Let that gentle pushing and pulling you feel each day guide you towards where you belong. Say yes to new things. Be open to exciting experience. Try new foods. Travel. Don’t just hate stuff because it’s easier. Maybe you’d love eel. Or urchin. Or the Insane Clown Posse. You don’t know.

7. Measure your failures as cautiously as you measure your successes. So you failed. Okay. In the same way you are modest about your successes, be modest about your failures. Don’t linger in them. Think of all the hard learning you did while you worked so hard on something that sucked. Valuable knowledge. That’s how it goes sometimes. On to the next one.

11 things it took me 42 years to learn (via Wil Wheaton) Read the rest

How much time should you spend automating a routine task?

Today's XKCD really tickles me. "Is It Worth the Time?" is a handy chart showing how much time you can invest in automating any recurring task in order to save time, on balance, over five years. I am an inveterate automator of recurring task, always looking for ways to shave seconds.

On the other hand, I think I'd halve the figures Randy gives in this chart, because many of the routine tasks you automate will change in some significant way in less than five years and require further work. Also, the chart fails to account for the losses in innovation and serendipity you suffer when you over-optimize a routine task so that you effectively can only do it in one highly constrained way.

Finally, there's the opportunity cost of clearing a relatively scarce large block of time to spend on automation, which may be a better bargain than giving the task more time overall, where that time comes out of a pool of more abundant small snips of time.

In other words, a five day block of time given to automating a task might cost more (that is, might crowd out more productive work) than ten half-day blocks of time or 40 one-hour blocks.

Still: this is crack for me.

Is It Worth the Time? Read the rest

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Get Your Shit Together: improve your life by planning for your death

Jeff sez, "My friend Chanel Reynolds's husband Jose Hernando was killed while cycling in 2009. She's created the Get Your Shit Together website to help you prepare for the worst now so that your family doesn't have the experience that she faced. Get Your Shit Together is a straightforward web guide to the documents, questions and details you should prepare in advance to ease the trauma on your family if the worst happens."

I really like this. I've lived through a couple sudden, unexpected deaths of friends in the past year, and it's got me thinking about how I can arrange my own affairs to ensure that things go smoothly as possible if I get hit by a bus or similar. The more I think about it, the more I realize that the things you do when you plan for your death and incapacity are really just about getting your shit together -- putting your life, your data, your commitments, and your finances in resilient and well-organized shape. If your life is pulled-together enough such that your family could run it if you disappeared, it will also be pulled-together enough that it contains as few unpleasant surprises for you lurking in its depths and snares.

Doing your will is a hassle, collecting passwords is a pain in the ass. I know, I get it. But so is going to the dentist, changing the oil in your car, and getting an annual mammogram. And, we manage to do that stuff anyway.

So, Get Your Shit Together was born.

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Unfuck Your Habitat: tidy advice for messy people

I've been really enjoying "Unfuck Your Habitat," which offers advice and community for messy people who struggle to stay organized and tidy. I especially like the before and after shots of messy rooms that have been successfully put to rights. I'm a super-tidy neat-freak, and compulsive enough about it that I annoy my family with it -- but for most of my early life, I was a total slob. Basically, I got into a somewhat rigid habit of cleaning up continuously and it became a kind of low-grade mania for me.

At least once a day, someone asks: “Why should I make my bed? Isn’t it kind of pointless?”

Well, there are a few reasons, as far as I’m concerned:

* It’s a habit that’s relatively easy to form, and helps to make way to form other habits that are beneficial. If you spend 30 seconds making your bed every morning, 20 minutes doing housework in the evening isn’t such a difficult thing to conquer. * A messy bed tends to give a room an overall sense of chaos, whereas a made bed can make even a messy room seem more put together. * It’s a small but tangible form of control over one’s environment. So many people let their homes get and stay in states of disarray, messiness, and chaos because it seems like the mess has more power than we do. If you can’t do everything, you can’t do anything, right? Wrong. You can make your bed. * Because I said so.

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Data versus diabetes

My friend Dan Hon was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. The news shook him. He resolved to do something about it. Being a geek, he decided to measure and quantify the health factors (weight, body fat, activity, blood sugar) that contribute to diabetes. He's lost 30 lbs since the new year, and has gotten pretty far into reversing his diabetes. He's detailed his experience with various kinds of monitoring tools, and written a bit of a rant about what needs to be fixed in order to make this easy for anyone with a diabetes diagnosis to follow in his footsteps.

Incumbents rarely produce great experience design. They don’t have to, and they typically are dealing with historical monopolies on consumers or audiences. But there are also some first movers who don’t seem to have improved their experience over time. I’m looking at you, Withings. It’s a bit embarrassing that Weightbot has a much better mobile app than you do, and you’re selling the hardware.

In the blood glucose testing market, it looks like patents (as ever) are acting to stop newcomers to the market, particularly patents in the device and strips. It’s complicated: they have a very heavily integrated solution and, from what I can make out, rely on insurance providers in the US. The copay I’m charged for 100 blood sugar testing strips is $10. If I’m paying retail, it’s about $110. When I’m testing up to six times a day, that’s nearly 200 strips a month.

Now, if I were being overly cynical, I’d say that the interests of a company producing blood sugar meters and strips aren’t necessarily aligned with the interests of a patient who wants to stop having diabetes.

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XKCD's productivity tip: reboot your computer every time you get bored

In the punchline of the most recent XKCD, creator Randall Munroe says that he avoids falling into a procrastinatory clicktrance by setting "simple 30-second delay I had to wait through, in which I couldn't do anything else, before any new page or chat client would load (and only allowed one to run at once). The urge to check all those sites magically vanished--and my 'productive' computer use was unaffected."

Now Randall reveals the simple tactic he uses to insert this productivity-saving delay:

I made it a rule that as soon as I finished any task, or got bored with it, I had to power off my computer.

I could turn it back on right away--this wasn't about trying to use the computer less. The rule was just that the moment I finished (or lost interest in) the thing I was doing, and felt like checking Google News et. al., before I had time to think too much, I'd start the shutdown process. There was no struggle of willpower; I knew that after I hit the button, I could decide to do anything I wanted. But if I decided to look at a website, I'd have to wait through the startup, and once I was done, I'd have to turn it off again before doing anything else. (This works best if your ongoing activities are persistent online--for example, all my IRC chat is through irssi running in screen, so turning off my laptop doesn't make me sign out.)

Distraction Affliction Correction Extension  Getting meaningful things done using "fixed-schedule productivity ... Read the rest