Posts Tagged ‘productivity’

Running Backward

June 4, 2010

Photo illustration, runner's legs, mirror effect

No, not that kind of running backward. Though, in my previous city, there was a dude you’d see doing that all the time. Seriously.

On a whim today, I reversed my regular running route. The route I’ve jogged dozens of times in all kinds of weather. The route, in the standard direction anyway, I could probably run in my sleep. Boy, let me tell you: It was like running it for the very first time.

Physically and visually, it was a completely different experience. When the start of downhills become the end of uphills, you change how you manage your workout. When the near side of the street becomes the far side of the street, you notice landscaping, architecture, entryways you’ve never noticed before. The best part: I expect today’s experience will help me better manage and better enjoy the route in its regular order.

The novelty won’t be as great next time but I’m sure to reverse the route again. I also will try to make a point to run backward, so to speak, in other areas of life, turning habits, routines, workflows on their collective heads.

I’ve already been doing this vocationally. In fact, one of my favorite parts of the interactive media master’s program I just completed was how telling stories on unfamiliar platforms improved my storytelling across the board — even in traditional print pieces, which I’ve been writing since high school.

Yes, running backward will move you forward.

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DailyDev: Timetoast Timeline

June 1, 2010

DailyDev thumbnail logoThis is the first of what I hope is many posts in my DailyDev (for development, not devotional) blog series. I plan to try out at least five new (to me) Web tools or techniques a week and share my experiences and finished products in this space.

To kick things off, I made a timeline version of my resume using free online tool Timetoast. While Timetoast is free, registration, or, a log-in via your Facebook account, is required.

Finished Product
Timetoast timeline screengrab

  • Timetoast outputs a Flash timeline (above) and html list version of the timeline (below).

Timetoast timeline list version screengrab

Pros

  • Super easy to use. If you can fill out online forms, you can make a simple interactive timeline in minutes.
  • Shareability. Each project gets own permalink, embed code. Built-in social media sharing, comments.
  • Basic HTML  tags including <a>, <b> and <i> allowed within descriptions.

Cons

  • Very limited design, formatting options.
  • Can add images only to title, events, not to timespans.
  • HTML formatting counts toward per-box character limit.

Tip

  • Take the time to add images to each event. It helps make the timeline appear a lot more visually interesting.

Recommend?

  • Yes. If you’re short on time, money or development expertise, Timetoast is a functional alternative to scratch-making Flash or CSS/jquery timelines.

Go From Good To Great, One Half-Hour at a Time

November 6, 2009

Clock.The Mozarts, Bill Gateses and Tiger Woodses of the world aren’t as successful as they are by plain accident, Malcom Gladwell argues in his 2008 bestseller “Outliers: The Story Of Success.” Yes, such peak performers are naturally talented, and, usually, relatively privileged. But they also invest a tremendous amount of time honing their craft.

Try 10,000 hours. That’s the amount of practice Gladwell says the best of the best put in. I’m under no illusions I’ll reach this threshold in my newly chosen field of interactive media. Extraordinarily few do. That’s Gladwell’s point. But, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t practice as much as can. To that end, it’s safe to say I’m behind on my hours.

To my credit, I’ve kept my head above water in an accelerated master’s program with my physical and mental health in tact. I’ve even taken on extracurricular projects, exercised regularly, and, I like to think, maintained some semblance of a social life — the fact that I’m blogging on a Friday night notwithstanding.

Getting in that little extra professional practice, however, that which separates the good from the great, has been difficult. But it doesn’t have to be. Like with physical exercise, short, intense mental workouts can pay large, long-term dividends.

In the time it takes to watch a “Seinfeld” rerun, I could be making my way toward great. I envision occasionally completing this routine toward the end of the day, but it could be done anytime:

  • 11:00 p.m. to 11:07 p.m. — Browse a favorite news source. It can online, or off, mainstream or alternative, professional or amateur, about interactive media or about something else, so long as it’s something you’re interested in.
  • 11:07 p.m. to 11:11 p.m. — Pick a story that especially captivated you and share it via social media. It’s fine to just favorite it on Delicious or Tweet a link to it, but try to add value. What did you like about it? What didn’t you like? What did you learn? What were you confused by? How does it relate to another concept? Also, try to favor tools you’re less familiar with. Always Digging your favorite links? Give Reddit a try.
  • 11:11 p.m. to 11:17 p.m. — Pick an interactive media problem that is vexing you — Web site color scheme, advertising tagline, interaction design snafu — or the industry — monetization of online content, information overload, the digital divide. Try to brainstorm 50 solutions. Yes, 50. There are no bad answers. Just keep writing.
  • 11:17 p.m. to 11:23 p.m. — Think of a skill you would like to improve. Ask an expert you know in this area to teach you a bit about it. (E-mail, Tweet, Facebook, text message or call, whatever seems most appropriate.)
  • 11:23 p.m. to 11:27 p.m. — Go to Pandora or grab your iPod and put on some favorite tunes. Now, just think. Don’t read anything. Don’t write anything. Don’t surf the Web. Throw your mobile on other side of the room if you have to. Just let yourself have a uninterrupted stream of conciousness for four minutes.
  • 11:27 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. — On a Post-It write two new things you want to try tomorrow. Sign the bottom and put the note in a place where you’ll see it the next morning. This is a mini-contract with yourself.

I’m yet to test run this exercise, but will share my experience in this space once I do. If you try it out, let me know in the comments how it went.

The Art of Failure

October 9, 2009

mistakes-watercolorThere’s a grade school art piece of mine, a watercolor, I like to reference to illustrate — pardon the pun — why one should never be afraid of mistakes.

The assignment involved using a cardboard edge to paint the wisps of a flower’s stem. Class was winding down and my piece looked nothing like a flower. The more I tried to fix it, though, the less like a flower it looked. Panicked, I frantically swiped the cardboard across the paper. I was close to giving up when I realized what I was painting did look like something: grass.

With a new design in mind, I worked with greater care and confidence. What I thought was a lost cause suddenly resembled a scene one might find in nature.

It also had pretty brilliant depth of field. It ended up being featured in the student art show at the town center mall for thousands of shoppers to see.

My parents still have the piece. I’ll try to digitize it and post it here sometime.

Manage Technology Before It Manages You

October 7, 2009

“The things you own end up owning you.” Well said, Tyler Durden. Now, keep that lye away from me.

“Fight Club” author Chuck Palahniuk’s cultural critique is directed at consumer items, like IKEA furniture, but it can just as easily apply to technology. Yes, technology empowers us. But, if we don’t manage it, it gains power over us.

Don’t check your text messages, e-mail or Twitter until you’re done reading this blog post. If your phone buzzes or Outlook or Tweetdeck flashes an alert, ignore it. If the prospect of this bothers you, you’ll want to read on.

Browsing the Web, carrying on a text conversation and responding to e-mails as they come in while you’re typing a paper may make you feel uber-productive. You’re multitasking!

Problem is, each of these tasks is going to take you longer to complete than if you tackled it by itself. You’re decreasing — not increasing — your efficiency.

Don’t just take my word for it, though. Scientific research — up, up, put your mobile down, this is important — has shown that not only does so-called multitasking reduce your level of engagement with any single activity, you also lose a minute of productivity refocusing your brain every time you switch tasks.

Got it? Multitasking is a myth. Just like the well-rested grad student.

Here are five more tips — based on an in-class group assignment — on how to manage technology before it manages you:

  • Schedule technology blackout periods during which you forbid yourself from interacting with a computer, television or handheld device.
  • Make time for low-tech hobbies. Exercise (without your iPod, thank you). Read a book (the dead tree version).
  • Use pen and paper. For all the work that goes into developing slick calendar and to-do-list apps, paper often works best.
  • Face-to-face conversations should take precedence over the buzzing mobile, not vice-versa.
  • Don’t name your devices. It creates an unhealthy attachment. It’s also kinda creepy.

I’ll add one more: Get outside! Stepping away from your work and getting some fresh air can be great productivity boosters. Plus, exposure to sunlight has been linked to neurotransmitter activity that elevates mood. This tip is especially important as the number of daylight hours dwindles.