17 August 2007

Sharpie micro and Staples Mini Gel Stick pens as pocket pens

Sharpie has a new pen called the Sharpie Micro which comes in an array of colors (over 10!). It has a fine point tip (about the same size as the typical ball point pen). The best part is the Micro is tiny - about 3.5 inches long and 3/8 inch in diameter.

Staples also carries a Mini Gel Stick pen. It's a little longer than the Sharper but a bit thinner.

Both pens are cheap. The Sharpie is $1.50/pen and the Staples Mini pen comes in packs of a dozen: $3.78/dozen (either black or colored assortment).

16 August 2007

qmechanic OS 2.0 and productivity suite 1.0

About a year or two ago, I remember reading a Steve Pavlina post where he made the following analogy:
My beliefs and attitude were the operating system (OS). And my thoughts (including those which directed my actions) were software programs. The software runs on top of the OS which runs on top of the hardware.

At the time, I thought it was hilarious to think of yourself as a computer. But nowadays I take the idea more seriously.
I would say that my OS (operating system) is at version 2.0. I made it from birth through college with pretty much the same values and attitude (OS 1.0). Grad school and various life events caused upheaval (new people, new expectations, new environment, parental problems). So I was forced to "upgrade" to OS 2.0.
As for software, I would consider my work on lifehacks to be "productivity suite 1.0". I'm pretty pleased with it in general. My one complaint is that I haven't found a good bedtime routine which helps me fall asleep. I guess I will work on fixing that in version 1.x!

Current wakeup system

I like to wakeup to my own music, rather than a buzzer or radio station. For a while, I would plug my stereo into my computer and use WinAlarm (a Winamp plug-in) to wake me up. The trouble was that I'd have to leave my computer on overnight and as you might know, prolonged uptime is bad for hard drive life. Then I switched to using a iHome iPod clock radio. This idea solved the problem of having an alarm independent of my computer. However, the sound quality on the iHome was terrible compared to my stereo. And I couldn't plug my stereo into the iHome clock.

So now I have finally settled on a system that works pretty well. I setup a calendar reminder every night to plug my stereo into an 2 GB iPod Nano (which I was formerly using with the iHome clock). As a backup, I also have a Sony clock radio which I use as a backup alarm. The Sony clock has nice big green digits which makes it a great clock for my room, too.

12 August 2007

qmechanic's favorite productivity tricks

Thanks to Merlin Mann and Steve Pavlina for many of the ideas listed here.

Staying on task


Life hacks

Develop your mind

If everything seems screwed up, remember you can always reboot!

For some other opinions, see these two articles from Productivity501 -- Interview: Becoming Effective and Interview: Biggest Time Waster.

How to get started with Getting Things Done

A friend of mine asked me how to learn about GTD (Getting Things Done), so I thought I'd help out by writing a post on how to get started with GTD.

First, you need to learn what GTD is! You'll want to read the book by David Allen once and then put it aside and think about it. The book is really abstract and encompasses many concepts (like theoretical physics, but not quite that hard). It will help to review parts of the book as you go along implementing your GTD system. The GTD Primer provides nice summaries of each chapter in David Allen's book. It may also be helpful to take a look at the GTD FAQ and the 43Folders getting started guide for a basic overview of GTD.

The first task is to collect all your loose ends (mental and physical) and sort them. It's called a "mind sweep".

Next, you'll want to come up with your own implementation of a GTD system. For some inspiration, you may want to see what other people have done. Some low-tech pen and paper systems: the Hipster PDA, the Moleskine PDA, how to make a GTD system for $20, Patrick Rhone's productivity whitepaper, the D*I*Y planner, my Cross ion pen and index card capture device. As for software systems, I've only used two tools: Backpack and todo.txt. Backpack is a great web-based GTD system (Patrick Rhone has a description of his Backpack GTD system). For those of you who are into Unix and command line like me, I really like Gina Trapani's todo.txt script (my current system). Download Squad has a feature article on GTD software tools and Wikipedia also has a table comparing various GTD software. If you want to procrastinate, you can look at this epic list of GTD tools.

As you spend more time developing your GTD system, you'll probably mess up and get off track. Don't worry if you fall off the wagon. It happens to everyone and the best part of GTD is that 1) it gives you breathing space to get back on track and 2) it's easy to pick up from where you left off. The most common pitfall is failing to do a thorough weekly review (or not doing them at all). Here's an article about how to go about doing the weekly review (Lifehacker has a shorter process for the weekly review). Another problem is poorly written to-do lists. 43Folders has a post on how to build a smarter to-do list. Remember that you can *not* do a to-do item and just cross it off the list. To-do lists aren't the end of the story; you also have to choose your priorities skillfully (what to-do next?). If you've come up with a wonderful GTD system for yourself and have mastered your to-do lists and weekly reviews, it might be time to examine your life goals (the "30,000 ft level" mentioned in David Allen's book). Steve Pavlina has some good advice in "how to discover your life purpose in 20 minutes", "setting your primary focus" and "living your values."

Finally, if you want to get some advice from the guru David Allen himself, check out his podcasts with Merlin Mann on 43Folders (the Productive Talk series). Another set of excellent podcasts about GTD is the first 12 episodes of the Fisher Files (the first episode "Introduction" is here). The Fisher Files is hosted by MIT physics professor Peter Fisher and has an academic leaning to it.

If podcasts are not your thing, check out 43Folders Recap: Best of Getting Things Done.

05 August 2007

My attempts at cord and cable management

A friend of mine mentioned reading about cord/cable management recently. Spurred by this conversation, I decided to organize my cords over the weekend.

One method I tried was using these orange cord clamps from Home Depot. The nice thing about the clamps is that you can easily change the radius of the clamp. And they are easy to remove unlike cable zip ties.

I also used grocery ties (in green) for a tighter fit. They are still easily removable which is nice.

For more permanent cabling arrangements, I used cable zip ties (they look like this). The drawback of zip ties is that you have to cut them off with scissors and they are not reusable. There are three power cords in the picture: laptop, speakers, and external hard drive. You can also see a coiled gray ethernet cord.

Here's one more example. In the picture, you see cords for refrigerator, extension cord, surge protector, and lamp.

02 August 2007

Elevator pitches

I've been thinking that I should develop an "elevator pitch" for my research. Even though elevator pitches are traditionally associated with business, science is also an exercise in selling (getting grants) and public relations. Recently, I was interviewed for a tutoring position where I was asked to describe my research. I ended up rambling and including too many complications. One of these days, I'll write an elevator pitch. This article seems like a good guide.

01 August 2007

Email folder re-organization

I thought I was an e-mail ninja (to use the words of Merlin Mann), but then I realized that I had too many email folders. I had something like 25 folders when really I could consolidate them into a smaller number and just search them. I don't actually look at my old email very often. So now, my work email uses the following folders: admin, colleagues, cqed, family, ffiles, friends, physics. admin is just anything related to administration like correspondence with administrative staff, housing, financial stuff, etc. colleagues is correspondence with senior people (e.g. professors). family is correspondence with family, and friends is correspondence with anyone who is not a colleague or family. cqed is research, ffiles is emails about the Fisher Files. physics is emails about science which are not related to research. I think 7 folders is as detailed as I need to get.