Life without apps and other musings on productivity
It is no secret that I have a love-hate relationship with smartphones and always-connected technology. I developed and regularly teach a course on the politics of privacy in the digital age, and every year there is something new to add to the syllabus. Last year it was the Internet of Things (which continues to grow in importance). This year it’s backdoors for national security agencies, with the current Apple-FBI legal battle illustrating the larger problem. Although it’s impossible to use online resources and not sell your soul to one of the Big 5, I try to minimize my digital trail and encrypt communications where I can.
An aside: there is a story making the rounds about a USA Today reporter who supposedly had his email “hacked” (sniffed, actually, but everything is called hacking nowadays) when he was using inflight wifi. Aside from the fact that the guy who “hacked” his email was sitting right behind him (so he may have snooped the old-fashioned way, over his shoulder), this reporter was working on the Apple-FBI story using unencrypted email on an open wifi network. People, do not do this. Use a VPN if you use open wifi connections a lot, and for heaven’s sake, use email that comes with https at a minimum. Why a USA Today reporter is still using Earthlink.net is beyond me. But I digress.
A couple of years ago I switched from a high-end smartphone to a feature phone, in part to understand the online opportunities for people who don’t have high-speed mobile broadband or can’t afford fancy smartphones, and in part to control my social media habit. I eventually went back to a smartphone, but I’ve regularly switched it out for a feature phone. (A feature phone is a phone which has data access for email and browsing, but doesn’t have the range of apps and mobile access that iOS, Android, and even WindowsPhone provide). Not only is life more peaceful, because your notifications go way, way down, but feature phones tend to be smaller and easier to carry around.
One result of my feature phone use is that I use very few apps, and I really don’t miss them. Aside from Twitter I’m not on any social media, I never played games much (Free Cell and Sudoku are about it in terms of video or phone games), and while I love to take photographs, I don’t get the allure of Instagram.
What do I miss by not having apps? Distractions, obviously, of the not-good but also the good kind. I can’t listen to Audible audiobooks through my phone, I have to carry my iPod Nano. I can’t pull out a book and read it. But I can listen to music. I can read newspaper websites. And the data are so compressed that I don’t have to use wifi because I don’t eat up much bandwith at all. I don’t know if having a minimalist phone makes me more productive, but it does give my brain the down time that we all supposedly need for recharging.
I’ve seen a bunch of posts recently about planners and planning apps, as well as productivity apps more generally, and while it’s interesting to see plannermania moving through various online communities, not enough of them talk about how individual a successful planning and productivity routine needs to be in order to work. If someone has used a particular system for years, then you can usually be confident they’ve found something that works for them, but unless you are like them both psychologically and in terms of your needs, it doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you. For example, Google Calendar is great if the vast majority of your activities are in one time zone, or at most two. If you regularly need to coordinate across more than two, you have to take extra steps to make sure your 4pm appointment in San Francisco is actually at 4pm, and the auto-sync, connected aspects of electronic calendars may not work correctly for you.
I loved my old Palm calendar system, but iCal and Gcal have never worked well for me. I don’t think I’ve missed an appointment because the calendars screwed up the time zone, but I’ve come close. From what I can tell they have fixed some of those issues but not all of them. And besides, I find writing down appointments helps me remember them better.
I don’t have a lot of productivity tips, to be honest. I have no idea whether what works for me would work for other people. I don’t really have life goals, aside from getting through the day and not being a huge pain in the ass to other people. Over the years I’ve realized that I do better by focusing on process rather than outcomes. Sure, there are things I want to achieve, but they happen because I work on them regularly, not because I have “goal” in big flashing lights over my desk, like those old Stairmasters that tell you “you have attained your goal” at the end of a workout.
I guess I have two productivity-related tips that might work for other people. For goals that require repeating certain activities and behaviors, like C25K, losing weight, writing a book, etc., what works best for me is to make it a practice. Not necessarily a daily practice, but a regular practice. Morning pages are a daily practice, because every day that I don’t do a brain dump is a less satisfying day. But I can’t run every day, my joints won’t let me. So that’s a several times a week practice. A certain kind of academic writing is something I’m trying to make an almost-daily practice. At least right now, I don’t seem to be able to do it every day, but I’m trying to do it most days.
The other productivity-related exercise I’ve been doing every day is time logging. I think I talked about it before, but it’s worth repeating. Write down how you spend your time. It’s the best way to figure out where the day goes. You may be busier than you think, in which case you are wrongly beating yourself up over not getting enough done. On the other hand, you may be frittering time away in things you don’t find all satisfying, and when you see that on the page, it can be very helpful.
If you like routines, think of daily or near-daily practices as routines. If the idea of a routine makes you feel tied down, think of practices as a way to get to where you want to go. You can’t get there from here without spending regular time on it.
I agree so much with the idea that everything is super individual–I’ve tried a lot of different systems and types of paper planning (starting with Day Timers 15 years ago through to a Passion Planner last year and an Erin Condren Life Book the year before that) and I’ve tried so many to do apps that they all start to run together after a while. I feel like, for me, I have a good handle on a balance between digital and paper–but what is a good balance for me is obviously not good for everyone!
Waiting for March to arrive so I can switch to a new notebook–I told myself that if I used the half-doodled in book for two months as a planner, I could buy a new one for March. And I have, so I did. It’s orange! So pretty!
Oh, that sounds nice! I bought TheHusband an orange notebook a couple of years ago. It is very bright and welcoming.
I like your posts because they are about what *you* do, and they are good resources for the rest of us. You’re not talking about how to do productivity for everyone else, you’re sharing your own experiences. And without that, the rest of us don’t have as many resources to find what works for us. For example, Habitica would never work for me, but I enjoy how Emily and Ros and other people use it.
If it hadn’t been for posts explaining Hobonichi, Midori, etc. etc. and how the posters find them useful, I wouldn’t have the tools that I find so critical for me today.
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These are the best life goals ever! I also find that I’m better at establishing practices and letting the goals, such as they are, follow from there. Most of my goals are about establishing practices in any case. I’ve gotten better at practices since I stopped thinking I “should” have big goals.
The biggest problem with my to-do and time management systems, I have found, is that I haven’t developed a way to make them work for big, longer-term projects. I rarely have these, but when I do it shows, and I’ve always been a procrastinator. So I guess I want to develop a practice for that. I “need” a vertical planner rather than my week-at-a-view one, because I think time logging and time *planning* would help me a lot. I might just look for a 2016 one on sale to try and ditch my current academic one.
I have enjoyed both your posts on productivity and Natalie’s, because neither of you talk as if you’ve found the one true way. I am always curious about how other people do this stuff but I’m never going to be the inspirational quote and washi tape type.
LOL. I was thinking about my life goals. But given I like my career, they have always been pretty basic. Finish the dissertation. Get a job. Get tenure. Write more stuff. Teach well. Stay alive. Age with dignity. Be generous to the people downstream from you. These don’t really lend themselves to Getting Things Done categories, you know?
That said, I have the same problem as you: I’m bad at breaking down larger projects into manageable bits, and always have been. I’m also a procrastinator. I find the Weekly review/Week to come activities very helpful, although I procrastinate on doing them (I try to do them on Mondays; this week it was Wednesday). And I use the monthly note pages in the Hobonichi to list the things I want or have to do in the month. When I don’t get them done, I think about why.
It’s weird, the vertical/horizontal split on weekly pages. I tried for years to work with horizontal and failed, and I have no idea why. I just know I do better with vertical, so now I stick to those.
I’m going to convert you both to washi tape if it’s the last thing I do. 😉
I leave it to my kid! I admire it bit it isn’t my thing. Her notebooks are works of art.
This is where I confess that I had a sticker album in the 80s, right?
I would like a sticker album TODAY, stickers are still awesome! Washi tape brings me joy, it makes me feel like I am artistic without actually requiring much in the way of artistic ability.
Calendars! I swear, I used a Palm clear into 2010 because I loved its calendar layouts and features so much. I use DigiCal+ right now and really like it, it works with my brain similar ways and will sync with things like Google Calendar nicely (this is after trying a dozen calendar apps, so). I find Google Cal to be too clunky/takes too long to just go “appt this time” (maybe because I’m not super fast and phone-savvy?), this is just “ok thing, bam” and then a bunch of different calendar display widgets so I can see different views (I am happy giving screen real estate to these, moreso than anything else really). I haven’t tried integrating it with Outlook yet (I use that for everything work-related but was grumpy about putting personal things on there, so I was juggling two schedulers plus a physical planner). Also somehow my phone has learned I want weather reports in the morning? I don’t know! It’s magic.
I’m at a weird point as I rarely used my phone for everything as it was fairly low-powered and about 5 years old until my phone company upgraded me to a spankin new one, but I’m still carrying around a bunch of unitask devices and am pretty okay with that (Kindle for ebooks is still a net bonus vs several paperbacks, old ipod classic for music/audiobooks means the battery life’s good for a couple of weeks). The only issue I was finding is that with my hearing loss I wasn’t catching phone calls or messages (even with vibrate on), so I finally got a smartwatch and it’s improved my response time tremendously. It also means I can glance at my wrist vs phone and see if an incoming email/text/call is critical to take now or send a prefab message back that I’ll respond when able without actually having to whip my phone out and text. I’m still figuring out how to curate which things send me which notifications, but I feel like it’s both improved my quality of life and has prevented me from picking up the “must look at phone every 5 seconds” habits that a lot of my friends and co-workers have. This is sort of important during meetings, when company bigwigs are visiting, or just when I’m with people and want them to know I value their time and company, y’know?
It’s funny for me, I guess, because I did not think a smartwatch would really be more than a nifty gadget, but it’s made a huge difference in terms of work and non-work productivity, but also just in terms of communication with family — I have a family of text-ers, so even just being able to send out a canned “in a meeting, call you later” means the difference between keeping regularly in touch, or them not bothering to text me because I don’t respond in a comfortable window for them. Since this is something I want, and I can’t change them (I prefer email, they hate it), I can change me to some extent 🙂
I still use paper and pen to break projects and tasks down into bite-sized pieces, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Plus it lets me use glitter pens, so I mean, I don’t really WANT to change 😉 I will admit that working what was a full-time coordination job now part-time while on disability (and it’s a disability that’s really heavy on maintenance appointments, government paperwork and time management, ugh) is probably what has made me so good at this, as well as delegation, because I just don’t have the ability to do it all myself or put my nose down and just chug through anymore. I do not recommend this method of learning to “work smarter, not harder” to ANYONE and honestly, a part-time job is still clocking me 40 hours a week during crunch. I’m just better able to do things from home (and yesss we use VPNs, oh my gosh, even our office is on a VPN tunneled through another studio) and on-the-fly versus having to be at my desk. 99% of our leaks (and they are BIG DEAL leaks, like millions-of-dollars marketing damage control/shifting up marketing schedule leaks) come from press people being idiots on airplanes with proprietary stuff.
As usual, the things you say and think about really help me reflect onto my own life, and I appreciate the perspective and the experiences. Regarding practices… oh yes. I’ve stopped using HabitRPG, but it was a big part of my life for several years helping me both establish habits/practices, but also to help me become more aware of EVERYTHING in my life, not just things that sounded like good goals or productive time spent. “Pet the cat” and “Don’t die” were on my list for daily things to do, partly because it was free gold/xp (shocking that a game dev is easily influenced by gamification, I know), partly so I could tick off SOMETHING each day even if I couldn’t get out of bed, partly because they were things I needed to be aware that I was accomplishing, especially during the worst of my health problems.
I still have my Palm V and all the necessary hookups, just in case. Just in case.
(Also this is a lot of WORDS!)
I can totally see why people who’ve enjoyed and been into video games would like productivity apps that reproduce some of those qualities; it makes total sense, and it’s great that they’re out there. I was thinking when I was writing this that the ways people use social or non-social apps is shaped in part by their non-online lives. I feel like I spend a lot of time talking and listening to people in my work, so I like being more solitary outside it. But for others it’s the opposite.
I love hearing about how people use things like smartwatches. I don’t want one, but I want to know how they work for people who have them. You and another friend have explained your usage in a way that makes me almost want one. Almost. 🙂
God I miss my Palm so much. I have a Handspring Visor tucked away somewhere. I used that desktop calendar app until I couldn’t anymore. It was so simple and so effective.
Someone really dropped the ball with the palm calendar app stuff, in terms of acquiring the patent/IP/licensing — someone could be a thousandaire if they released something like that, especially with desktop sync. I swear that’s my biggest grump about phone apps, the lack of desktop support, as I use both for work AND play, pfft.
I love hearing about how people use things too, even if they’re not for me! I went with a Pebble Time because it fit into my life better than something else — waterproof (because I am not smart and will wash my hands/dunk them into fish tanks/bathe small children without taking stuff off), longish battery life (I find myself charging it every 3-4 days and I am terrible at remembering to charge things), I was super interested in the colour e-ink screen (it’s quite slick) and the ability to put cats on everything. It has more features than I think I will ever use, but I found myself delighted at it having a little mic and transcription ability that works really well, so maybe I will use some of that more! Generally, as long as things are relatively user-friendly AND there’s decent documentation (from how different people use it) I’m very happy, but I’m not bleeding-edge in terms of making everything talk to everything else or controlling my thermostat from my phone.
Oh, and I charge my watch in another room. My phone’s by my bedside as an alarm, but it’s flipped facedown and on quiet mode as soon as it’s bedtime. So far I am resisting the urge to check my mail/play one more game/etc before bed, otherwise I’ll have to put it outside as well. I don’t like having anything but books in my bedroom, which is a combination of needing really good sleep hygiene (I’m experimenting with tinted glasses for blue light filtering and am super pleased with my results, too) and The Ring basically convincing me that I never, ever, ever want a TV in my bedroom because ghosts will come out of it and eat me. 😉
I totally agree with how people use apps depending on their outside lives! New and shiny phones and games on them are huge in the office because we’re all interested in who is doing what new things and the barriers to entry for app/games are so low comparatively, it’s really neat to see what one or two people can do. There’s a whole lot of current feelings in the industry regarding gamification and how effective it is on a lot of people and how that can be used for… well, evil. It’s kind of like, we invented these systems and know best how they work, so a lot of people feel responsible for seeing them be implemented in kinda gross ways. King did a talk at GDC a few years ago about microtransactions in Candy Crush and how, once someone paid one time, the difficulty level was ramped up, because they would pay again versus someone who never paid at all. Financially successful, oh yes. But ethical, nnnnng. I don’t usually link stuff but there’s a recent Extra Credits episode (full subtitles) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHcTKWiZ8sI that talks about Sesame Credit and how it’s being tied in to social media, purchase tracking, and using positive reinforcement and other gamification tools to… basically give people a score on how “patriotic” they are. It’s from a very US perspective but the folks who do these videos have a lot of social credit (heh) with me.
I hear you on work life vs home life, too — my work life is super chatty, so I get home and just want to not talk (except to my cats) for the rest of the night, but stuff that reflects my work is generally interesting and/or effective for me.
As I’ve said before, I enjoy all your productivity posts. They make me think.
Every time I look at a weekly vertical calendar, I really like it, but the tiny slotting makes it hard to write in it especially if I have things back-to-back. Then I always end up with a horizontal non-delineated day slots in a weekly calendar. I think I’m to have to give us on the week-at-a-glance thing so I can have more room to do more planning stuff and track other things.
I first looked at the Passion Planner since that has become such a buzzword, but I hated the narrow slots. I really liked their planning pages. The best page layout I’ve found is what the Day Designer has. Unfortunately, I hate the huge spiral binding and general heaviness and bulkiness of it. I prefer stitched books that lay flat. I also want thin smooth paper. This makes the Hobonichi attractive, but again there’s the problem of those tiny slots. I find the Midori too bulky.
Do you find the slots too tiny to write in? As a daily carry thing, do you prefer the smaller Techo size or do you think the Cousin would be better. Unfortunately, I saw a review where the slots on the Cousin are just as small as the Techo. However, this person used the larger size to renumber his slots so he made them much larger. But what a pain to write those in every day.
So at the end of this last comment, I’m still in a searching mode. I certainly don’t need anything this year, but the search is on for 2017. If you have any advice on other things you have tried (Marks, for example) do let me know.
Ooh! I may have found something: personal-planner.com.
I use the Techo size, and I don’t find the slots too small, but then I use a Japanese Fine fountain pen and either .5 or .38 for my gel pens. I write pretty small anyway, so it’s not a problem for me. I don’t write in all the times, just the times when I am doing something. I know it starts at 7am and the last row is 7:30 pm (centering off the 12pm that is printed in), so I just count squares.
If you got the Cousin, you could get the Avec, which splits the year into two 6-month books. But I agree that it’s not an EDC, at least not for me. My diary last year was slightly smaller than an A5, thin, and flexible, and that’s as big as I’m willing to go. That Day Designer looks too big and bulky to me too; fine for leaving on a desk, but when I’m carry files and books already, I don’t want something that large and heavy to carry every day.
I like the Mark’s weekly. I keep it at the office and I use the extra spaces below and to the right of the daily appointment slots to make notes on what I’m doing for the week. It is pretty narrow, but it’s not my main diary so I’m fine with that (it’s just for work).
I hadn’t considered the Avec. I hope for 2017, Hobonichi comes out with more size options in English. I don’t know what a Mark’s looks like since I haven’t been able to find a review of it yet. My current book’s an A5.and I really like it, but I don’t want to go any bigger than that.
I love that Personal Planner I linked to because you can design your pages. But with that spiral binding and those thick pages, the overall book is huge. I’m not sure I want to lug around such a heavy book even if the trim size is an A5.
I made the mistake (not really) of telling Sunita casually that I was too busy to get organized, and fifteen minutes later (not kidding), I was on the Hobonichi website and bad things happened from there. Anyway, once my techno arrives (I got the English version with a really nice cover), I will report on the size and usability.
I can’t wait to hear what you think! And how you use it, because *everyone* is different. I get such great ideas from other people.
Honestly, the hurdle for me is using it at all. If I can just integrate it into my daily (what passes for) routine, I’ll consider it a victory. 😀
Yeah, I am not a fan of spiral bindings at all. I’ve never really liked them. I get the utility, but I still don’t find them something I like to use.
It would be great if Hobonichi came out with the Cousin (or the Avecs) in English, but I know that they had a different designer to put the English Techo together, so it may be more than they’re willing to invest in. They believe in not doing too much, from what I can tell.
I’ll do a post on the two planners and the Midori at some point, with photos so you can see how the Mark’s looks too. I’m surprised there aren’t more reviews of it out there.
I’ve been distracted by life so hello. *waves* I also love your productivity posts. So far, my planner helps me break down tasks in piecemeal fashion and I’m starting to get the hang of it. I have several projects for myself. I have one today – I’m finally boxing up all the books I’ve collected from over the years and donating them. I can check that off the list.
I have several short-term personal and work goals in that I am finally paying off my school loans and planning really nice vacations for myself and investing more in my career. This year I decided to not go anywhere and save my money for later. I like having goals and it makes me feel better to have things planned out. Can’t explain but it helps a lot.
I need a feature phone and will get one. I’m trying to cut costs at every corner. My job is now a little closer to home. I’ve learned to put on a sweater when my house is a little chilly and not always turn on the heat. Taking my lunch, making snacks. Yes, 2016 has made me be a little more financially conscious and responsible.
*waves back* Hi, K! I think that financial goals are a really important part of planning, not least because financial stuff eats away at us and affects how we feel, and consequently how we manage other parts of our lives. I never imagined that I would be a creature of routine, but I’m liking having one. If my father could see me now, LOL.
I’m glad you are enjoying your planner!