Bother me less (or: I don't want your notification's nose under my attention tent)

Photo of electric bell

The Apple Watch seems to be inspiring a lot of uninspired thinking. Things like all the news that fits on the wrist. I for one cannot imagine why I would spend hundreds of dollars so a device can annoy me with yet more notifications. I certainly don’t need to have my work/flow/conversation/meeting/meditation/relaxation interrupted with news about people I don’t know in places I’m not. That crap can wait until I’m ready to lean back and browse the headlines. That’s what Feedly and Flipboard are for. I see articles of other app developers eagerly working to get out their own Watch versions and/or extensions of their apps.

That’s great! But … no thanks.

I don’t want more, streamlined, easy-to-access notifications. I don’t want yet more interruptions to pull me out of what I’m doing.

I want fewer notifications.

Right now, I have basically two levels of stuff being pushed at me every day: the most important stuff that I always want to know about asap (e.g., phone calls from my family); and the rest of the stuff, which on any given day might include things which I may be interested in seeing right away, but not always (e.g., an email from a long-lost friend, a call from someone I’m meeting tomorrow, a text from an acquaintance with whom I chat asynchronously, a server alert requiring attention), intermixed with the general crap I’m inundated with all the time (e.g., outsourcing spammers, newsletters I find myself magically subscribed to, newsletters I actually subscribed to, professional listservs, non-urgent business emails that may or may not require any response, Kickstarter updates, email from developers of apps I’ve downloaded over the past several years, non-urgent server notifications from my own sites, server alerts of all kinds for clients I had eight years ago, political action emails of all stripes, and so on — all of which arrive with the rhetorical fanfare of OMG YOU WANT TO READ THIS NOW!!!).

I’d love to be able to have multiple levels of urgency smartly applied to the things that interrupt me. The phone, with its dozens of apps, each with their own arcane notification settings, does not offer that. The system is too dumb, as in limited by the simplest of algorithms. Same with email rules.

Maybe, just maybe, something like the Apple Watch can allow me to set up yet another level of urgency filtering, so that I can leave the iPhone in the drawer, thus enabling it to leave me alone and bother me less. That makes me hopeful, and is the #1 reason I’m interested in the Apple Watch. Maybe I hope for too much. But there must be an improvement upon the Monolith of Distraction.

[Image: "DoorBell 001" by HNH - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.]

Hat brain

illustration of brain processes, by Robert Fludd circa 1619

Do you ever get hat hair? You know, what happens when you've been wearing a hat or visor and you take it off and your hair is all dented and messed up?

I get hat brain. It comes from having to change hats so often during the work day. Designer hat. Project manager hat. CEO hat. Coder hat. Community member hat. Marketer hat. So many hats! And I have to wear many of them each and every day.

And that's hard. It's especially hard when jumping from a designer or coder hat, where I'm deep in flow puzzling out something, experimenting, totally immersed, to a project manager or CEO hat, where I'm stepping back, looking at the big picture, strategy stuff, people interactions. Each hat leaves dents in my brain. It takes a few minutes to let the dents fade, a few minutes before I can realistically and effectively wear a different hat.

Right now I see timeboxing as an answer. I'm tempted to write a quick app to facilitate it, since I haven't seen anything too useful so far. But of course that would require changing hats.

[Illustration by Robert Fludd circa 1619, via Wikimedia Commons]

Dropbox is what iDisk should have been

Of course, if Apple's iDisk didn't actually suck — didn't actually sync at dial-up data rates, didn't actually take days to sync a few megabytes of files, didn't actually stop syncing altogether at the first file conflict it encountered (which should be conflicting at all), didn't actually corrupt files due to all of the above — then Dropbox would probably have a much smaller market, at least among Mac users.

But iDisk does suck.

And Dropbox is easy peasy.

And Dropbox is also cross-platform, so you can sync across all kinds of computers.

And Dropbox makes individualized sharing of folders possible.

So now I am using Dropbox, and when my MobileMe account expires, I'll have to see if syncing other stuff via MobileMe is worth $99/year. After all, I'm already syncing email and calendars via Google.

This whole situation boggles my mind, though. It's not as if Apple didn't have the resources to make iDisk totally rock.

How to translate New Year's Resolutions into actions

Resolution time. It's the occasion to institute changes. Or at least resolve to change. It doesn't always work out, does it? The diet gets dropped. The fingernails get bitten. The cigarettes get smoked. The exercise gets blown off. And that's that. Right?

Maybe not. If you've ever had trouble shaking an addiction or behavior that ends up not serving your needs, you might find some hope (and results) in this analysis of addictive behavior, courtesy of Hyrum Smith, founder and creator of the Franklin planning system.

This post isn't about planning or time management. It's about the five-step cycle that drives our behavior.

I know I know, you probably believe this is just a bunch of hokum. (We'll get to beliefs and how they affect behavior in a minute.) But I'm not prescribing anything here. This is just a look at how behavior happens. I think it's empowering.

(These notes are drawn from a Franklin videotape called "Gaining Control." As far as I can tell, it's long out of print. And since then, the Franklin Institute became Franklin-Covey, and Hyrum Smith has gone on to other things. If you find this interesting, there are some links at the bottom of this post to some tape and book resources where you can learn much more on this.)

"The Reality Model"

According to this analysis, there are five steps to human behavior. Here's the breakdown.

1. Human Needs

We each have four basic human needs.

  1. To live.
  2. To love and be loved.
  3. To feel important.
  4. Variety.

If we are lacking any one or more of these needs, we may end up trying to fill them in.

File this away. We'll get back to it.

2. Belief Window

We all have beliefs, principles, convictions that determine how we interpret the world.

In the tape, Hyrum uses an example, "Men are better than women." Another might be, "My self-worth is dependent upon never losing an argument."

3. Rules:

These are "If...then..." statements, using the principles in the Belief Window has the premise.

Following on Hyrum's example: "If I get in an argument, then I must win."

4. Behavior Patterns:

These are the actions that result from the Rules. Thus, in the example case, "I" can never back down in an argument.

5. Results:

Here's the question: Will the results meet my needs over time?

If "I" never back down in an argument, never compromise, never acknowledge someone else's point, then is that making my life better?

Natural Law:

Hyrum Smith then makes these interesting points:

1 - If the results of your behavior do not meet your needs, then you have an incorrect principle on your belief window.

Your actions are the results of your principles on your Belief Window.

2 - Results take time to measure.

Sometimes it takes years. Look at smoking. Or heavy drinking.

3 - Growth is the process of changing principles on your belief window.

You can't change the behavior if the principles causing that behavior are not addressed. If you believe, "I can't stick with exercise programs," then you can try starting a workout regimen but you probably won't have much success sticking with it. If you believe, "Older women cannot be attractive," and you feel old, then dressing up will feel like an exercise in despair.

4 - Addictive behavior is the result of deep and unmet needs.

EULA blues: How can I synchronize Yojimbo without .Mac?

After comparing many programs for my regular note-taking, I keep returning to Yojimbo. The tagging system and spotlight support are enough for me to find my misc notes. Syncing via .Mac has a nice wrinkle in that it will merge changes to individual files, so if you update a file on one computer, and another file on the other computer, when you sync them both changes are reflected on both machines. Still, while the tagging approach can be fast, creating more complex relationships is difficult, if not impossible. In the end, Yojimbo is not ideal, and I'm still planning on trying alternatives, but this is what I have.

What's worse, I'm kind of painted into a corner because BareBones has decided, in their wisdom, to provide no way at all to export your items except one at a time. There's also no way to export for backup, unless you want to manually back up the Yojimbo Application Support folder in your user Library.

This means that, out of the box, the only way to move files or back up your notes in Yojimbo is to use .Mac ... which is not ideal, when you consider the rather objectionable .Mac EULA, that includes such lovely items such as:

Subject to any specific license agreements for various .Mac software
features (including third party software), Apple may change, suspend or
discontinue any (or all) aspects of .Mac at any time, including the
availability of any .Mac feature. Apple may also impose limits on the
use of or access to certain features or portions of .Mac, or restrict
your access to any part or all of .Mac, in all cases without notice or

In other words, they can just kill your stuff without consequence. Oh sure, they would never do that! But if not, then why do they claim the right in the agreement?


Apple reserves the right to terminate your access to .Mac at any time,
with cause or without cause, in the event of any breach of this
Agreement by you (or anyone using your account or any sub-account),
your infringement of Apple's or .Mac's or others' intellectual
property, or any other circumstances which, in Apple's sole discretion,
merit termination. Any such termination may, if Apple elects (and
subject to applicable law), be without any refund to you of any prepaid
fees or amounts.

Translation: Apple can arbitrarily cancel your account and keep your money, and you have no recourse.



Translation: Apple can look at all your private files.

Why would I pay $99 a year, or more, for service under such terms? So this is now what I'm trying to avoid.

So does anyone out there know of a way to synchronize Yojimbo between machines without .Mac?

The anti-priority dogma -- er, canon -- of GTD and OmniFocus

So I've been playing with OmniFocus alpha to see if it can work for me as a personal productivity/task manager, but as I noted before, the system lacks a way to prioritize tasks. It seems rather obvious to me that you want to identify the important must-do items before you start filling in your day. I could spend all day answering the phone, reading and writing emails, catching up on my feeds, having meetings, doing conference calls ... and not getting done the things that need to get done.

Efficiency is getting things done. Effectiveness is doing the right things.

Apparently, despite a hopeful comment from Ethan Schoonover, there seems to be little hope that prioritization will appear in OmniFocus. I'm only digging into this now, but a discussion thread on the topic revealed a dogma about the Getting Things Done "canon":

Just got started with my sneaky peak, and OF is just plain *awesome*. However, there's one killer feature that is keeping me from moving over from iGTD permanently and taking my chances with the Alpha: prioritization of tasks! I realize that setting priorities is a bit "anti-GTD" to purists, but in my case it's absolutely necessary.....

This requested yielded a number of responses:

Given that the prioritisation of tasks is not canonical GTD, then if this feature were to be added, it would be crucial IMHO that there were a preference to turn this off altogether.

I suppose it's a fine line that the Omni crew are having to tread - whether to aim for a pure GTD implementation or open up to a wider audience practicing variations on GTD or even unrelated productivity systems.

Yes, because one wouldn't want just anyone to be productive -- only those who've drunk the kool-ade.

Stay GTD Canonical, at least for the first release.

Prioritization is not canonical.

Well, while the project may have been inspired by GTD, it is called "OmniFocus," not "OmniGTD."

Omni president Ken Case then weighed in:

OmniFocus has a notion of priority already: it's the order in which you arrange your items. If you want something to have a higher priority, simply move it up in the list.

This gives you much finer-grained control than a typical priority system, which typically only has a few levels of priority: OmniFocus effectively has as many priorities as you have items.

Does that make sense?

It actually doesn't make sense to me, because I'm prioritizing apples vs. oranges. Moving tasks up and down won't help if they are in different contexts.

This all really has me rather stumped. As someone who has gained much from the Franklin-Covey system of prioritizing, I just don't understand the logic to deprecate priority.

As for the complaint that priority is non-canonical... I don't have The Book right here, but I do remember that, when discussing the 4 factors for doing (first by context, next by time available, then by energy available and - FINALLY - priority)

I don't know, but it seems to me that even asking the question, "Do I have the energy for that?" for every task is an invitation to procrastinate. A big long list of contextualized but non-prioritized tasks is pretty darned certain to sap any inspiration from me. On the other hand, priorities can help you focus -- even stimulate energy. You tend to find energy for those tasks that are truly important.

Just do it! (Do what?)

Shelley directs our attention to Anne Zelenka's SXSW-prompted rant, which includes this:

4. Too many to do list applications. As a Web Worker
Daily writer, of course I’m interested in to do lists and applications implementing them. But just because you can build one with whatever web framework you’re trying to learn doesn’t mean you should release it as a beta and expect me to write about it.


8. Getting Things Done. The productivity virus so many of us have been infected with in 2006 and 2007. Let’s move on. Getting lots of stuff done is not the way to achieve something important. You could be so busy planning next actions that you miss out on what your real contribution should be.

Ken Camp chimes in:

It’s the weekend. I’m quite focused on getting little or nothing done. And finding a different sort of appreciation for tools like Twitter that allow my to note what friends, colleagues, and strangers are doing
in passing. Send a little chirp of input if I like, yet still step back and recharge batteries, and in what would be an anathema to David Allen acolytes everywhere - get nothing done.

Stephanie Booth pushes back:

To me, GTD is “a solution to finally be able to enjoy free time without feeling bogged down by a constant feeling of guilt over everything I should already have done.”

Maybe not everyone has issues doing things. If you don’t have trouble getting stuff out of the way, then throw GTD out of the window and continue enjoying life. You don’t need it.

But for many people, procrastination, administrivia piling up, not-enough-time-for-stuff-I-enjoy-doing and commitments you know you’re not going to be able to honour are a reality, and a reality that is a source of stress.

To me, it seems like blogging is getting done on the topic, but the real topic is being missed by all. (Either that or we're all debating over the nature of an elephant.)

The real issue, I feel, is what Peter F. Drucker put so well:

Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.

These eleven words are part of premise of Franklin-Covey, the gold standard when it comes to productivity management systems.

--And no, it's not "time management": you can't manage time, it happens no matter what you do; all you can do is manage what you do with the time.

"Getting Things Done" suffers from an inept title -- and I confess haven't allocated much of my own attention towards trying to figure out its merits or lack thereof -- so I'll leave off on further commentary there.


Get occasional email updates on what I'm doing (and not blogging about).

Powered by MailChimp

Subscribe to productivity