Tag: Hack

Staying Productive

Staying Productive

Background

I wrote a post a long while back about how I started to use Google Keep to get myself organized. Google Keep has been a go-to app for me on my phone for a long time now. I love using it to make lists of things, and I find it much more convenient than a paper notebook.

Don’t get me wrong–I think a paper notebook still has plenty of uses! I love my notebook for long running meetings with open-ended discussions or brain storming sessions. It’s great to be able to take a pen/pencil and doodle down any idea that comes to mind. When I’m having a free-form conversation, I need a free-form way to take notes.

However, my phone is something I almost always have with me–and my paper notebook isn’t. My phone allows me to take my Google Keep notes and email them to myself. It allows me to have a reminder right on my homescreen every time I unlock my phone. It’s just more convenient.

But something happened since the last time I wrote about using Google Keep. I use it more and more, and at some point I felt like I was getting less and less done. This is less about in the office and more about how productive I feel at home. So how can I be getting less done (or at least feeling that way) if I’m taking my own advice and using Google Keep to hack my TODO list?

I have tons of lists and no actions.

I think that’s the big take away. I list all the things I’m thinking about, and I keep making more lists. There’s no time frame around actioning things with the lists I’m making! So, in the spirit of continuous improvement, I set out to make some changes.

Inspiration

I know I wanted to make some changes with this part of my life because it was starting to weigh down on me; I didn’t feel productive. But I knew this wasn’t going to be something I’d answer over night. I kept my eyes and ears open for ideas for a little while before I thought up some tweaks.

The first thing I came across while living my alter ego was an Instagram post by Big J. Big J is this guy that’s incredibly big and incredibly strong. He’s lived the bodybuilding life and has a lot to show for it… And because being successful in the bodybuilding and strength world means being extremely motivated and hardworking, it’s no surprise I picked up this little bit from Big J:

Simple idea, right? Put some time into planning your schedule for the upcoming days. It almost seems to obvious to not be doing. I mean, don’t I do this already? I have meeting invites and stuff in my calendar for work… But, that’s right! I don’t have anything in my calendar for my own personal things that I like to do outside of work. Hmmm…

The next little tip to push me along was after a conversation with a teammate of mine at work. Our conversation was mostly about work-life balance, but my colleague was telling me about something he was trying out around forming habits. Essentially, over a period of time he’s been recording his success at keeping on top of good habits and identifying reasons why he’s sometimes missing them. Definitely right up the continuous improvement alley! Another great point he brought up was that good habits need to be introduced one at a time and only once you’ve been consistent with your other habits. By adding too much at once, you can derail the whole good habit process.

The “Staying Productive” Hack

This is the hack I’ve been implementing for a bit over a week now, and it’s helped tremendously with feeling productive!

Every night when I’m laying in bed, I spend about 5-15 minutes with my phone and I schedule personal activities in my calendar for the following day.

There it is. It’s not rocket science or something Earth shattering, but it’s definitely helping. Taking a page out of Big J’s book and a tip from my colleague, I’ve modified my schedule to introduce a very brief planning period every day. And it’s just one change that I think is helping introduce a good habit into my life.

This has helped me:

  • Stay on top of prepping food (which is a big part of the lifestyle I try to live)
  • Schedule time to relax (yes, I even schedule time for things like video games!)
  • Schedule time to blog (I run three blogs, and sometimes finding time to write feels like a chore)
  • Work on personal projects
  • … Feel like I’m being productive.

And no, I didn’t drop Google Keep–It actually helps feed into my scheduling! It’s great to look over my lists of things and try to create actions for them.

Next Steps

This simple hack is not only nothing particularly fancy, it’s also not bullet proof! But that’s okay when you’re always trying to continuously improve. Some snags I’ve run into or things I’ve thought about are:

  • How do I adjust my planned schedule when unexpected things come up? If someone drops in for a visit out of nowhere, or my car breaks down, or my dog decides to tear up the furniture, how do I make sure I can continue on with my planned schedule? Right now some things drop off the schedule or I push other things off to compensate. This hasn’t been too big of a problem so far, but sometimes this has a bit of a landslide effect and it makes the rest of the day feel unproductive. A little bit of dirt in the cogs seems to throw the whole thing off for me! This is something I’ll be thinking about as I encounter it and I’ll try to thing of some easy solutions.
  • How can I be more like Big J?! Aside from being bigger and stronger, how can I plan for more days? Big J plans every Sunday but I plan every night for the next day. Is there a happy medium? Planning every Sunday would potentially amplify the landslide effect I previously mentioned, but it would be a convenient single planning session for the whole week. Perhaps I’ll continue with the advice of my colleague and modify one part of my new habit at a time and look at planning for an extra day at a time and see how that goes!

If you’ve been making checklists and find that you’re unable to action items, try this approach! It takes only a few minutes every day, and so far I’ve been having great success in feeling productive. It’s not difficult, so it’s worth a try!


Hack The North

Hack The North

Hack The North… What The Hack Is That?

Hack The North is Canada’s largest international hackathon. It’s big. It’s bad. It’s awesome. Okay, but what does that even mean?

The idea is that 1000 people get together from all over the world in an event where they’re given 36 hours to create amazing technology hacks. There’s a lack of sleep but no lack of amazing ideas and hacked together proof of concepts that show incredible innovation. Sponsors are present to hand out prizes for best usage of their product or API to competitors as well as mentor them and provide help with problem solving. This year, Hack The North was hosted at The University of Waterloo.

Bro, Do You Even Hack?!

This was my first time ever at a hackathon. I’ve participated in the Ontario Engineering Competition (OEC) which is much smaller scale event with a similar structure–A bunch of students get together and have to come up with a design to solve a problem. I even ran OEC in 2010 with some schoolmates (you might know them at Thalmic Labs) which was a blast. However, this weekend I was sitting on the other side of the table.

I got to hang out with a group of my colleagues at Hack The North at the Magnet Forensics booth. We had a great time representing our company and meeting tons of incredible students from all over the world. We provided assistance where we could with some of the challenges that students were facing, and spoke to them about the important role that our software plays in the life of a forensic examiner/investigator.

What’d You See There?

When I first showed up at Hack The North, it was around 9:00 on Friday night. I got there just in time for the opening ceremonies, which I thought were great. They had live Q&A with a former Facebook employee who has “made it” in the software industry and intros from some of the major sponsors at the event.

Hack The North - Opening Ceremonies

Everyone getting settled for the opening ceremonies at Hack The North.

From that point on, I spent the rest of the time hanging around the Magnet booth… But that doesn’t mean I didn’t see anything awesome. We had people from all over the place coming by to talk to us and pick up some Magnet swag. We handed out an incredible amount of stress balls and couldn’t seem to keep a sufficient supply of them coming. We had our stickers showing up on everything from fuzzy viking hats to laptops to shirts to megaphones. You name it, our stickers made it onto it.

Hack The North - Magnet Viking

Akshay Joshi decorated his hat with Magnet stickers!

Hack The North - Magnet Megaphone

One of the Hack The North organizers was sporting a Magnet sticker on his megaphone.

On the last day of Hack The North, we had participants coming up to our booth to demonstrate some of their awesome hacks. We got to see how Thalmic’s Myo was being incorporated or how other vendors’ APIs were being leveraged to do some really awesome things. We were really impressed with some of the things we saw.

What’s Next?

I think even after the first night of being at Hack The North I was trying to think of what we could do next time or if we even wanted to come back… The answer to the latter was quickly an “absolutely yes!”, so I’m pretty confident we’ll be making an appearance at Hack The North again. There were so many great people at this even that we spoke with that it would be silly not to go back.

I think next year we’d like to participate even more. We learned a lot about the different ways that we could get involved, so things like speaking sessions or workshops would be awesome to get people involved with. We’ll definitely have more stress balls and unique giveaways to please the masses!

Thanks to everyone who made it out to Hack The North. Stay in touch with us! We’d love to hear more from you.

Hack The North - Kelly and Nick

Kelly and I with our #Truth T-shirts and other Magnet gear on at our booth!


Hack Your TODO List With Google Keep

Hack Your TODO List With Google Keep

Trying To Keep It Alllll Together…

I’m a big fan of TODO lists. I find that they’re a great way for me to set up a bunch of tasks and feel really productive as I work through them. I’ll make TODO lists for almost anything. What do I need to get done tomorrow morning at work? What groceries do I need to get? What topics am I thinking of blogging about? I’ll get some sort of TODO list going for anything.

The one thing that I need in my TODO list to stay effective is to constantly have it around me to remind me. I was running the Evernote app on my Android phone and recently made the observation that things that I put in there had a much higher likelihood of getting done versus things I put in my work notebook. The reason? I check my phone a lot more than my work notebook. I have my phone with me when I grocery shop. I have it before and after I workout at the gym. It’s my alarm in the morning so I have access to it as soon as I wake up. My work notebook? Not so much.

The problem here is that my important work tasks I want to accomplish were not getting the same treatment my out-of-work tasks were getting. They weren’t getting the same success rate.

Enter Google Keep

I try to meet up with my teammates once a month to discuss their goals or things we need to work through at the office. In my last round of one-on-ones, I was discussing my TODO lists with one of my colleagues, Samantha. She said that she noticed I was using Evernote, but was curious of I’ve ever tried out Google Keep. I admitted that I hadn’t, but she was speaking highly of it. “Why not give it a shot?” I thought. But it hacked my TODO list concept in a big way.

Google Keep has one feature that I think is totally awesome on my phone. I never tried this with Evernote, so I’m not claiming that it can’t do this. The phone widget is truly awesome. Right on my homescreen of my phone, I can see my TODO lists. This takes that first point I was discussing (need to have access to it all the time) to a whole new level. Now instead of having to go to the app itself to get refreshed on what I need to do, almost any time I touch my phone I’m having visibility into my TODO lists.

A second powerful feature is the idea of checkboxes for progress. This probably sounds like it’s not all that important. “Google Keep has checkboxes? Great… I have bullet points in any other app I can get my hands on!” I can hear you saying that now 😉 But it’s different. I was using Evernote and keeping bulleted lists, and when I was through with something, I’d just delete the whole bullet point. The idea of checking things off your list is powerful because it shows you that your making progress. I can see that I have only 3 of 10 items left on my list and that gives me a bit more drive to try and knock off the rest. If my list is always just a view of what’s left, it will always feel like it’s never done.

Summary

I’m not trying to push Google Keep or bash Evernote here… I’m just trying to show you how a few simple hacks in my TODO lists were able to provide some real positive benefits. For me, the things I need in my TODO list technology are:

  • Easy to access
  • Ability to access frequently
  • Insight into progress I’m making on the list
  • … Not cost me a cent!

Your list might look a bit different. You could argue that you don’t always want the list in front of you or that you don’t want total transparency into the progress you’re making. I can’t speak for you in terms of what will be most effective, but I highly recommend Google Keep after using it for only a couple of weeks.

Now my only problem is that I look like I’m ignoring people if I’m taking notes on my phone in a meeting! Thanks for the suggestion, Sam!


  • Nick Cosentino

    Nick Cosentino

    I work as a team lead of software engineering at Magnet Forensics (http://www.magnetforensics.com). I'm into powerlifting, bodybuilding, and blogging about leadership/development topics over at http://www.devleader.ca.

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